New EU rules on PAH levels in food

New EU limits for contaminants will affect fish and mussels in particular
October 20, 2004

The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health has voted  in favor of a European Commission proposal to set maximum levels at EU level for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), in particular for benzo(a)pyrene. This applies to certain foods containing fats and oils and foods where smoking or drying processes might cause high levels of contamination. Maximum levels are also proposed for foods such as fish, where environmental pollution may cause high levels of contamination, for example resulting from oil spills. PAH have been shown to be carcinogenic and maximum levels are set to protect public health.

David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, welcomed the agreement: “Contamination with PAHs has been on our agenda for some time. This follows the incidents of contamination in vegetable oils in particular in 2001. Interim local measures were put in place to manage the problem in the short term whilst more data was gathered. We also made a thorough investigation of production practices and other potential sources of contamination. I am happy to see this agreement today, which will ensure the same level of protection of public health across the EU.”

PAH such as benzo(a)pyrene can be formed in foods during heating and drying processes which allow combustion products to come into direct contact with the food substance. The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health consists of representatives of the Member States and is chaired by the European Commission. Having got the approval of the Member States, this Regulation will now have to be formally adopted by the European Commission in the near future.

More information
The Scientific Committee on Food concluded in its opinion of 4 December 2002 that benzo(a)pyrene could be used as a marker for the occurrence and effect of carcinogenic PAH in food: