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Health and Consumer Protection

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Commission proposes very stringent rules on pesticide residues in baby foods

The European Commission has decided to submit stringent draft rules on pesticide residues in baby food to the Standing Committee for Foodstuffs. The proposal is to add new provisions to Directive 96/4/EC on infant formulae and follow-on formulae and Directive 96/5/EC on processed cereal-based and baby foods for infants and young children to ensure that baby food contains no detectable levels of pesticide residues. Until now differences have remained in the Member States' legislation on this subject. In future, baby food will be allowed to contain not more than 0.01 mg of pesticide residues per kg. A value of zero is considered below the limit of detection because of the slight inaccuracies in the measurement methods available.

Two reasons prompted the Commission to decide to harmonise the limit values at this extremely stringent level: first, in the past the differences between the regulations in the Member States have caused trade barriers. Second, at the end of 1997 the Scientific Committee for Food revised its earlier opinion that a limit value of 0.04 mg/kg gave no cause for concern and recommanded a cautious approach. This proposal from the Commission brings the standards up to those in the Member States having already strict legislation on this matter (Austria, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg).

The Commission has set the value at 0.01 mg/kg as a precaution so that no acute health hazard would ensue if it were exceeded slightly. On the basis of the latest scientific opinion, however, the Commission considered a prudent approach appropriate. For the vast majority of the 800 or more different pesticides notified to the Commission, no scientific data are yet available on the maximum residue levels known to be harmless for infants. The Directives allow different levels to be set for residues of individual pesticides in the future as soon as warranted by new scientific findings.

Around 40% of the products on the European market meet the proposed limit value already. Other manufacturers will, however, need time to adjust their supplies, manufacturing processes and, in particular, raw material sources in order to meet these lower limits. They must therefore be allowed an appropriate transition period. For this reason, trade in products which do not comply with the Directives will not be banned definitively until 31 december 2001.

The proposal to amend these two Directives will be submitted to the Standing Committee on Foodstuffs, which is made up of representatives of the Member States. If it is approved by a qualified majority there, the Commission may then adopt the Directives. If not, the Commission will submit the proposals to the Council of Ministers for a decision.

Released on 16/10/98

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