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Brussels, 11 October 2004

Commission proposes revised rules on food additives reducing nitrates and nitrites levels

Today the European Commission adopted a proposal to amend Directive 95/2/EC, dealing with food additives other than colours and sweeteners. The proposed amendments will reduce the authorised levels of nitrates and nitrites in meat products, withdraw the authorisation for the use of gel-forming food additives as used in “jelly mini-cups”, withdraw the authorisation for the use of a certain paraben (E216 and E217) and authorise the use of four new food additives.

David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said “We continuously update our legislation to take into account the latest scientific knowledge. For example, with our proposal today we are aiming to reduce the use of nitrites and nitrates in meat products while still guaranteeing the safety of these products. To achieve this balance, the Commission consulted the European Food Safety Authority for the latest scientific advice. I believe that this type of review process is vital for consumer confidence.”

Nitrates and nitrites are used in meat products such as cured meats or sausages to prevent this type of food from going “off” during the production process and to avoid microbiological contamination by bacteria like C.botulinum. However, in meat products, nitrites are transformed into nitrosamines. The aim of the Commission is to keep the level of nitrosamines as low as possible. The proposed amendment will therefore reduce the permitted levels of nitrites and nitrates added to food while still maintaining the microbiological safety of food products. As a basis for the amendments proposed today, the Commission consulted the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for advice on the safe use of nitrites and nitrates.

Jelly mini-cups are a single portion, pre-packaged sweet or confectionery, mainly intended for children. They are considered a choking risk because of their consistency, shape and form. In April this year the European Commission adopted a Decision, which entered into force immediately, to suspend the marketing in the EU of jelly mini-cups containing certain food additives derived from seaweed and/or certain gums. Today’s proposal will make this suspension permanent by withdrawing the authorisation for the use of gel-forming food additives in jelly mini-cups.

The Commission and EFSA have also reviewed the use of E214–219 p-hydroxybenzoates (parabens) and their sodium salts. EFSA could not establish an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) level for propyl paraben because there was a lack of clear “no-observed-adverse-effect” level. The Commission is therefore proposing that the authorisation for the use of this paraben (E216) and its sodium salt (E217) should be withdrawn, while there will be no change as regards the use of the other parabens.

The amendment to Directive 95/2/EC also proposes the use of four new food additives. These new additives are ethyl cellulose, erythritol, 4-hexyl resorcinol and soybean hemicellulose.

Next steps

Now the proposal will go to the Council and to the European Parliament for adoption under the co-decision procedure.

Further information

See also IP/04/479 from April 2004 on previous EU measures to withdraw jelly mini-cups, IP/02/435 from March 2002 on jelly mini-cups containing “konjac” and IP/02/289 of 21 February 2002 on EU food law and the website of DG Health and Consumer Protection:

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