The new measures, due to come into force on 1 October 2006, means processors will have to ensure their supplies of such products meet the requirements, of face having the shipments sent back or destroyed. Under the rules, they will also have to bear the costs of such regulatory actions.
Aflatoxins have been shown to cause cancer in animals and aflatoxin B1, the most toxic, can cause liver cancer in humans. The are formed by certain moulds on foodstuffs, particularly peanuts and edible nuts and products made from them. The moulds need warm, humid conditions to grow and are therefore mainly found in imports from hot countries.
A Commission regulation of 2001 already sets maximum levels for the permitted level of aflatoxins in foodstuffs. However the limits have been regularly exceeded in peanuts, pistachios, dried figs, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts from countries like Brazil, China, Egypt, Iran and Turkey, leading the Commission to impose stricter control measures on imports from those suppliers.
Now, the European Commission has decided to consolidated the stricter import requirements on such foodstuffs into a single regulation.
The conditions require the specified commodities be imported into the EU through specific designated points of entry into the bloc. All health certificates would have to be valid for import no later than four months from the date of issue of the certificate.
The health certificate now has additional sections which must be completed by an enforcement authority when identity and physical checks on a consignment are carried out at the point of entry.
If a consignment is not accompanied by the health certificate and the results of sampling and analysis, the consignment is barred from entry into the EU. The consignment must be re-dispatched to the country of origin or destroyed.
All costs resulting from official measures taken on non-compliant consignments of unshelled Brazil nuts from Brazil, and pistachios from Iran, will be charged to the importer or food processor.
Five per cent of consignments of hazelnuts, and mixtures containing hazelnuts and hazelnut flour meal or powder from Turkey are now required to be sampled and analysed. The percentage of products to be tested from other countries remains unchanged.
Food business operators would be required to have enough workers and logistics on hand to unload the consignment of foodstuffs and to allow inspectors to take the samples.
When special transport and specific packaging forms are used, the importer must have the necessary equipment to allow inspectors to take the samples.
In 2005, the EU's rapid alert system received a total of 947 notifications from regulators on aflatoxins. A total of 498 of the notifications related to pistachio nuts, primarily originating from Iran. Aflatoxins were also regularly reported in peanuts and derived products (219 notifications) originating from China (79), Brazil (32), Argentina (22) and Ghana (14).
Within the group of nuts and nut products, 64 notifications concern hazelnuts and derived products originating from Turkey (53) and Azerbaijan (11). A total of 33 notifications concern almonds and derived products, primarily originating from the US (28).
Within the group of fruits and vegetables, 48 notifications concern dried figs and derived products primarily originating from Turkey (46). Another 13 notifications relate to melon seeds primarily originating from Nigeria (10).
Within the group of herbs and spices, chilli (27), paprika (10), curry (4) and nutmeg (4), were also stopped at the border for high aflatoxin levels The products originated primarily from India (27) and to a lesser extent from Turkey (5) and Pakistan (5).
Due to the ongoing problem with Iran the European Commission cracked down on imports from the country and put in place new measures. All consignments from the country are required to be analysed twice, the first time prior to export by Iran's regulators and the second time prior to import by the EU member state.