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Food & Ag Policy Briefing: EFSA at odds with France on E171, E. coli study, USMCA progress

Also last week, Agriculture Council discusses CAP, rebuke from US ag groups over fresh China tariffs, Trump urged to ban GI cheese

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) finds itself at odds again with its French counterpart (ANSES), this time over the health risks from the food additive titanium dioxide (E171). Meanwhile, the US FDA is launching a new long-term study to assess the risk factors that contributed to the 2018 E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce.

This article provides a review of the most significant talking points in the food and agriculture policy sphere for the past seven days.

In April, France announced that it would be placing a temporary ban on foods containing titanium dioxide for a year, as of January 1, 2020. The ban could be further extended if manufacturers do not supply what it claims is “missing data” on the safety of the food additive.

The European Commission subsequently asked EFSA for an opinion ahead of a meeting to discuss the French move last week (May 13). In a statement, EFSA upheld its previous view that the additive does not raise safety concerns.

Furthermore, it said ANSES reviewed “25 new relevant publications published between 2017 and 2019” and carried out a systematic review on in vitro genotoxicity of nano titanium dioxide. EFSA concluded that the ANSES opinion did not identify any major new findings that would over rule previous conclusions as to the product’s safety.

CAP reform

Elsewhere in Brussels, there were some developments with the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy last week.

At Tuesday’s (May 14) Agriculture Council meeting, farming ministers from across the bloc showed their opposition to the Commission proposal to review national Strategic Plans annually. Theyargued that yearly reviews would be difficult to administer due to the complexities and uncertainties involved in the process. Many voiced support for a biennial approach.

The Belgian and Polish delegations also used the meeting last week to push their case for special CAP support for apple and pear producers, claiming dramatically falling prices caused by a bumper harvest, the closure of the Russian market and an increase in production costs have combined to create “exceptional market conditions”.

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said he did not feel the situation warranted special measures at this point.

On the same day, the Commission authorized national authorities to defer the deadline by which farmers need to submit their requests for CAP payments for the fourth year in a row. They now have until June 15 at the latest, depending on what deadline national authorities set, to submit their dossier.

E. coli study

In the US, the FDA signalled it will continue to search for answers in regard to the 2018 E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce with the announcement that a new, long-term environmental study will be launched in Yuma, Arizona to assess potential risk factors in the area.

Mary Tijerina, an officer from the FDA Division of Produce Safety at FDA’s Center for Food Science and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), told the recent 2019 Food Safety Summit in Illinois: ““For this study, we are probably going to be looking at environmental [factors], such as irrigation water, soils and sediments and animal fecal material, just to name a few.”

The assessment, Tijerina said, will be done in collaboration with industry, as well as academics from the University of Arizona and the University of California, state partners, relevant water districts and the animal operations located in the growing area.

Following a delayed launch, the FDA also said last week it had certified an unnamed first facility under its third-party certification program – the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP) – with others “on their way”.

FDA on May 16 also announced it would be extending the original May 31, 2019 deadline for importers to apply for VQIP in FY 2020 until July 31, 2019. Importers who apply before the new deadline will be able to take advantage of the program in the period between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020.

USMCA progress

There was some good news for ratification of the USMCA accord, a revised version of NAFTA, between the United States, Canada and Mexico with an agreement on lifting US tariffs imposed via Section 232 on steel and aluminium imports from its neighbors.

The removal of these tariffs is seen as a major step towards finally signing off on USMCA. However, the timeline for the approval remains murky with consideration of the deal in the Democrat-led House dictated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

While Pelosi has talked optimistically about the deal previously, a number of House Democrats maintain there are still issues with it, including the enforcement of labor and environmental provisions.

Elsewhere, trade tensions between the US and the China remain high, with the latest round of tit-for-tat tariffs drawing a strong rebuke from agriculture groups, while President Trump was urged by the dairy industry to ban imports of EU cheese whose names are protected under geographical indication rules.

But the announcement by USDA secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday (May 17) that US beef exporters will be allowed to ship cattle of all ages to Japan for the first time since 2003 can be chalked up as a ‘trade win’.

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