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IP/02/1462

Brussels, 11 October 2002

Commission adopts first EU report on irradiated food

The European Commission has adopted a report on food irradiation in the EU, which includes information on whether irradiated food placed on the EU market is correctly labelled. The report, the first of its kind, is based on the results of checks undertaken by national authorities in the Member States. In general, the report indicated a high level of compliance with the requirements of the EU food irradiation Directive. However, the United Kingdom authorities found evidence of irradiation in 42% of certain dietary supplements. As most of these supplements cannot be irradiated legally in the EU, the Commission has asked the other Member States to check this particular sector.

David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs, said: "This report helps us to identify where we should focus our attention in future as regards irradiated food, to ensure that the rules are respected and that consumers are properly informed."

Irradiated food in the EU

The irradiation of dried aromatic herbs and spices is authorised across the whole of the EU. Five Member States (Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, UK) also allow the marketing of certain irradiated foods for example fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, poultry, shrimps, fish or frog legs on their national territory. Directive 1999/2/EC requires all irradiated foods to be labelled with the words "irradiated" or "treated with ionising radiation" to allow consumers to make an informed choice. This labelling requirement also applies to irradiated food ingredients, present in small amounts in compound foods. Analytical methods can determine whether or not foods have been irradiated. The Directive also states that irradiation of food can only take place in facilities approved by the competent authorities of Member States, and that such facilities must provide information on the amounts of foods treated. Member States are required to report to the Commission on an annual basis.

Results of the Commission report

The report compiles the results of these checks for the period September 2000 to December 2001. In this period, only six Member States gave approval to facilities on their territory to irradiate foods (Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, Netherlands, UK). The individual reports of the Member States indicate that the facilities mostly complied with the requirements of the Directive.

Eight Member States (Austria, Germany, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, UK) performed checks on foods placed on the market. The results show that only a few irradiated products are on the market which are not correctly labelled. These products are herbs, spices or foods containing herbs or spices, frog legs, shrimps and vegetables.

However, in the United Kingdom, the authorities found that 42% of certain dietary supplements are irradiated (aleo vera, alfalfa, cat's claw, devil's claw, garlic, ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, guarana, kava kava, saw palmetto, silymarin, turmeric). As the treatment of these products except garlic and ginger by ionising radiation is not allowed in the EU, other Member States have been asked by the Commission to check specifically this sector additionally to the UK, in order to ensure that the requirements of the Directive are respected.

In total, more than 6500 food samples have been checked of which 1,5 % were found to have been irradiated but were not labelled as such.

Background

Irradiation is a physical treatment of food with high-energy, ionising radiation. It can be used to prolong the shelf life of food products and/or to reduce health hazards associated with certain products due to the presence of pathogenic micro-organisms.

The list of products authorised for irradiation within the EU contains only one food category: "dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings".

The marketing of any product not complying with the Directive has been prohibited since 20 March 2001.

The framework Directive 1999/2/EC sets out the following:

    The treatment with ionising radiation of a specific food item may only be authorised if:

    • there is a reasonable technological need,

    • it presents no health hazard,

    • it is of benefit to consumers,

    • it is not used as a substitute for hygiene and health practices.

    Any food irradiated or containing irradiated food ingredients must be labelled.

    A favourable opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) is needed to place a specific food item on the EU-wide list of products authorised for irradiation.

    National authorisations allowing the irradiation of certain foods within Member States can be maintained until the full EU-wide list of products authorised for irradiation enters into force.

    Member States may also maintain restrictions or bans on irradiated foods, in compliance with the rules of the Treaty, until the full EU-wide list of products authorised for irradiation enters into force.

The report is available in all languages at:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/sfp/fi_index_en.html (section Annual Reports)


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