Europe proposes to test Indian guar gum for dioxins
India for presence of the contaminant PCP as an interim measure to
ensure ongoing supply of the thickening agent prior to the Indian
authorities implementing tighter controls.
Last year high dioxin levels were detected in guar gum imported by Swiss firm Unipektin from India, which was subsequently used in food products across the bloc. The dioxins were linked to contamination with pentacholorphenol (PCP), a fungicide used in food and feed. A group of inspectors from the European Food and Veterinary Office travelled to India to investigate the source of the contamination. Although their final report has not been made public, they are thought to have identified a number of causes and to have made some recommendations. European Commission proposal to introduce testing for all Indian guar gum would prevent a repeat of the incident until such time as the recommendations are in place, and help restore confidence in the safety of supplies. A spokesperson from the Commission had not responded to a request for more information on the proposal's content prior to publication of this article. It is not clear whether the testing will be carried out in India or Europe, nor who will be expected to pay for it. However the testing will help ensure that India's guar gum supply is not interrupted. India produces around 200,000 tones of guar gum per year - between 80 and 90 per cent of the world's supply. The FSA told FoodNavigator.com that it wanted to inform people about the testing proposal as soon as possible, even though it is subject to a discussion over the next month. Guar gum, a water-soluble dietary fibre, is obtained from the seeds of the guar plant found on the Indian sub-continent and the US. Because of its high viscosity, the gum can be hydrolysed so that it can be used in quantities that infer a physiological effect. It is a common additive in a broad range of food products, including yoghurts In October 2007 Jeewan Gandhi, president of Indian Guar Gum Manufacturers Association, reportedly said that consignments of the gum were being tested by Vimta Labs in Hyderabad and based on its certification, consignments were being accepted in Europe. However the The Economic Times of India said in December that guar gum sales had hit an all time low while pending the findings of the investigation. As for Unipektin, in its last update issued on December 14 2007 it said that all supplies of raw material still were undergoing control and analysis on receipt. However in consultation with the authorities, it was decided that ongoing analysis of end products was no longer necessary. Between August and December Unipektin analysed 215 supplies of end products and 48 supplies of raw material containing guar flour. "A PCP content of less than 0.01mg per kg has been detected in all samples," it said. "Forty-eight samples out of 263 have been analysed for dioxin and all of them contained less than 0.4pg per gram of this substance." The FSA has stressed that, given the high dilution of guar gum in processed food products, there was no immediate health risk to consumers. However as a precautionary measure large numbers of products made with guar gum from Unipektin were withdrawn from sale across the EU.