Spicing up EU-Indonesia food trade relations – The EU adopts emergency measures for Indonesian nutmeg

Today we have a most welcome return on our blog: Francesco Montanari, food lawyer in Lisbon and senior associate at Arcadia International, examining the EU emergency measures imposed on Indonesian nutmeg import.

Early this January, the European Union (EU) has decided to step up the conditions for importing Indonesian nutmeg into its market. Nutmeg is a high-value dried spice that derives from trees of the genus Myristica, plants that typically grow in a few Asian countries. Nutmeg has been widely used in European cuisine since the Middle Age for various purposes. According to some sources, its value increased exponentially during the 16h century, when belief had it that it could help preventing the plague. Currently, nutmeg sourced from Indonesia accounts for nearly 80% of all EU imports of that product, with Netherlands, Germany and Italy being the three top importers.

Indonesian nutmeg has been already under EU surveillance for some time mainly because of aflatoxins contamination. Indeed, it has been subject to reinforced checks at EU borders in the context of Regulation (EC) No 669/2009 since July 2012. A relatively high number of notifications (20) reported by EU Member States’ control authorities through the Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF) over the period 2009-2012, in addition to some shortcomings emerging from an audit performed by the Food and Veterinary Office of the European Commission had justified an increase in border surveillance back then.

Over three years later, non-compliance levels reported in relation to Indonesian nutmeg do not seem to have substantially improved. A quick search in the RASFF database, in fact, shows that the number of RASFF notifications concerning this product have not decreased over the last three years, accounting for 23 border rejections.

It is against this background that the European Commission has recently decided to stiffen the import requirements applying to nutmeg with Indonesian origin.

The Commission has done so by adopting Regulation (EU) No 2016/24 whose provisions amend and supplement, among others, Annex I to Regulation (EU) No 884/2014, an EU emergency measure setting special import conditions for a number of imports presenting a high risk of aflatoxin contamination.

Applicable as of 2 February 2016, the new import requirements applicable to nutmeg from Indonesia imply that, in addition to the obligation of pre-notify the arrival of their consignments, the concerned business operators will have to provide the control authorities at EU borders also with:

  • a valid health certificate verified, signed and stamped by an authorised representative of the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture for food, attesting that the consignment in question has been subject to sampling and analysis in conformity with EU legislation; and
  • an analytical report detailing the results of the tests performed in the country of origin in compliance with the maximum levels set by Regulation (EC) No 1181/2006.

At their arrival in the EU, consignments will still be subject to 100% documentary checks by national control authorities and to a lower frequency (20%) in case of identity and physical checks. Business operators sourcing nutmeg from Indonesia should be aware that, under the import regime set by Regulation (EU) No 884/2014, identity and physical checks may be not always performed at EU borders, but, based on the choice made by each Member State, be carried out at designated premises located either at an external borders or in-land.

Whilst the introduction of stricter import requirements for Indonesian nutmeg may be justified in the light of the overall unsatisfactory compliance level observed over time, the impact that the newly introduced measures will have on the bilateral trade relations between the EU and the Asian country remains to be seen.

In fact, over the last few years, the EU has been particularly active in voicing its concerns over the compatibility of certain sanitary and phytosanitary requirements set by Indonesia with the applicable international trade rules (e.g. BSE, avian flu and import requirements for plants and plant products), although with limited success. This considered, the import conditions that the EU recently adopted for Indonesian nutmeg risk being an additional political irritant in the context of the already tense trade talks between Brussels and Jakarta.

Food recalls in EU – Week 14/2015

This week on the EU RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) we can find the following notifications:

1. Alerts followed by a recall from consumers:

– Allergens: traces of milk in varieties of milk free milk chocolate from the United Kingdom, following a consumer complaint. Notified by United Kingdom, distributed also to Denmark;

– Pesticide residues: methiocarb (2.3 mg/kg – ppm) in curly endive from Belgium, following an official control on the market. Notified by Belgium, distributed also to Germany and Luxembourg;

– Biocontaminants: atropine (4.1 <–> 384; µg/kg – ppb) and scopolamine (2.0 <–> 388 µg/kg – ppb) in millet balls from Hungary, following company’s own check. Notified by Germany, distributed also to Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.

2. Information for attention/for follow up followed by a recall from consumers:

– FCM. Industrial contaminants: migration of melamine (3.7 mg/kg – ppm) from melamine chopping boards from Turkey, following an official control on the market. Notified by Greece, distributed also to Albania;

-Dried black fungus from Vietnam, via Germany, infested with insectsfollowing a consumer complaint. Notified by Denmark.

3. Alerts followed by a withdrawal from the market:

– Allergens: undeclared almond (<50 mg/kg – ppm) in paella spice mix from Spain, following company’s own check. Notified by France, distributed also to Belgium;

– Allergens: undeclared egg in cheese from Belgium, following company’s own check. Notified by Belgium, distributed also to Luxembourg;

– Allergens: undeclared soya (12.1 mg/kg – ppm) in Prague ham from the Czech Republic, following an official control on the market. Notified by Slovakia, distributed also to Russia;

– Mycotoxins: aflatoxins (B1 = 6; Tot. = 6.9 µg/kg – ppb) in halva from Turkey, following an official control on the market. Notified by Germany, distributed also to Netherlands;

– Biocontaminants: atropine (26 µg/kg – ppb) and scopolamine (11 µg/kg – ppb) in millet honey poppies from Germany, following an official control on the market. Notified by Austria;

– Biocontaminants: atropine (30 µg/kg – ppb) and scopolamine (24 µg/kg – ppb) in gluten free organic millet from Austria, following an official control on the market. Notified by Austria, distributed also to Slovakia;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Clostridium perfringens (5600 CFU/g) in vegan paté from Italy, following company’s own check. Notified by Italy, distributed also to Germany, Greece, Malta, San Marino, Sweden and Switzerland;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: foodborne outbreak suspected to be caused by frozen yellowfin tuna loins from Spain, following a consumer complaint. Notified by Netherlands, distributed also to Belgium;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Salmonella spp. (presence/25g) in roquefort blue cheese from raw sheep’s milk from France, following an official control on the market. Notified by Germany, distributed also to Belgium, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg and Netherlands;

– Composition: unauthorised substance gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in food supplement from the Netherlands, following a consumer complaint. Notified by Sweden.

4. Seizures:

In Switzerland we had a seizure of frozen marlin steak from Vietnam, due to the presence of heavy metals (mercury – 2.5 mg/kg – ppm)

5. Border rejections:

  • aflatoxins (B1 = 10.1; Tot. = 11.2 µg/kg – ppb) in groundnuts in shell, in blanched groundnuts kernels (B1 = 11.1; Tot. = 57 µg/kg – ppb), in groundnut kernels (B1 = 157.9; Tot. = 172 / B1 = 7.8; Tot. = 21.1 µg/kg – ppb), in shelled groundnuts (B1 = 4.6; Tot. = 15.6 µg/kg – ppb) and in groundnuts (B1 = 59.52; Tot. = 64.11 µg/kg – ppb) from China
  • aflatoxins (B1 = 19; Tot. = 23) in nutmeg from Indonesia
  • aflatoxins (B1 = 26.7; Tot. = 28.1 µg/kg – ppb) in chili powder, red chilli (B1 = 91.4; Tot. = 94.5 µg/kg – ppb) and in peanut butter(B1 = 7.3; Tot. = 8.4 / B1 = 3.9; Tot. = 4.6 µg/kg – ppb) from India
  • aflatoxins (B1 = 350; Tot. = 390 µg/kg – ppb) in pistachios from Iran
  • aflatoxins (B1 = 9.3; Tot. = 21.3 µg/kg – ppb) in fig paste from Turkey
  • biphenyl (4.76 mg/kg – ppm) in lemons from Turkey
  • chlorpyrifos-methyl (0.136 mg/kg – ppm) in pomegranates from Turkey
  • dead insects (21.4 %) in organic dried figs from Turkey
  • fenpropathrin (0.29 mg/kg – ppm) in dried raisins from Iran
  • fipronil (0.029 mg/kg – ppm) in peppers from the Dominican Republic
  • malathion (0.20 mg/kg – ppm) and unauthorised substance phorate (0.052 mg/kg – ppm) in pumpkin seeds from China
  • poor state of preservation of and incorrect labelling on pasteurized cherries from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  • Salmonella spp. (presence /25g) in frozen poultry meat preparation from Brazil and Thailand
  • Salmonella spp. (presence /25g) in paan/betel leaves from India
  • Salmonella spp. (presence /25g) in sesame seeds from India
  • too high content (2407 mg/kg – ppm) and undeclared (2363 mg/kg – ppm) sulphites in dried apricots from Turkey
  • FCM: too high level of overall migration (13.6 mg/kg – ppm) from glassware from China
  • FCM: migration of chromium (0.3 mg/kg – ppm) from knives from China
  • FCM: migration of chromium (0.6 mg/kg – ppm), of nickel (5.3 mg/kg – ppm) and of manganese (6 mg/kg – ppm) from barbecue grills gaseous fuel from China
  • FCM: migration of manganese (1.9 mg/kg – ppm) from barbecue grids and from gas barbecue (2.4 mg/kg – ppm) from China
  • FCM: corrosion of and too high level of overall migration (1266 mg/kg – ppm) from stainless steel kitchen utensils from China unfit for use as food contact material (stainless steel AISI 201)
  • FCM: absence of certified analytical report for melamine kitchenware from China
  • unauthorised substance anthraquinone (0.049 mg/kg – ppm) in green tea from Hong Kong
  • unauthorised substance carbendazim (1.2 mg/kg – ppm) in peas from Kenya
  • unauthorised substance hexaconazole (0.021 mg/kg – ppm) in green beans from Kenya
  • unauthorised substance profenofos (0.11 mg/kg – ppm) in okra from India