Eight new trade concerns on food safety, animal and plant health were raised at the latest meeting of a World Trade Organization (WTO) committee.

The Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures also discussed 16 previously raised issues at the meeting on July 18 and 19.

One of the new specific trade concerns was brought by the United States on China’s restrictions on beef. China banned imports of U.S. beef after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was discovered in the U.S. in December 2003 but a trade deal re-opened the market in 2017.

The U.S. raised concerns regarding China’s restrictions on imports of its beef, as it is recognized as a territory with negligible risk for BSE, or “mad cow disease,” by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Current conditions of beef trade with China fall short of full alignment with OIE recommendations for negligible risk countries, according to the U.S. trade representative.

China’s representative responded that it resumed importing deboned and boned beef under 30 months of age from the U.S. in June 2017 after a risk assessment. However, to ensure the safety of its cattle industry and public health, it has not imported beef more than 30 months old from members with a record of BSE.

EU MRL amendments
Three specific trade concerns (STCs) involved the European Union and two were about changes to maximum residue levels (MRLs).

Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Ecuador expressed concerns about EU amendments to MRLs for imazalil, which is a widely used fungicide in the cultivation of citrus fruit and bananas.

The countries said no efficient alternatives are available and they criticized the EU for its precautionary stance and disregarding scientific evidence presented by international organizations.

EU officials said its studies did not exclude residues of imazalil posed a risk to some consumers. The new MRLs were expected to be applicable beginning in April 2020, giving businesses time to prepare.

The Chinese representative raised concerns on the new EU proposed MRLs for the pesticide lambda-cyhalothrin in tea and other products, lowering it from 1 milligram per kilogram to 0.01 mg/kg.

The official from China said the measure is not based on risk assessment results but an alleged lack of relevant data. The EU was asked to further evaluate potential health risks to consumers and consider a transition period of at least one year for Chinese tea producers to adjust.

Legislation setting MRLs for lambda-cyhalothrin in tea and other herbal infusions at the level of determination (LOD) of 0.01 mg/kg is based on available scientific data, according to EU officials. A transitional period will be granted and products already on the market are exempt.

The other issue was brought by Colombia, on the EU regulatory process for determining maximum levels of contaminants like glycidyl fatty acid esters or 3-monochloropropanediol in foods or food ingredients, for example refined oils and such products including palm oil.

EU officials said discussions on regulation for these contaminants are ongoing and draft measures would take into account comments by WTO members before the proposal is finalized.

Other new and past issues raised
Brazilian officials voiced concerns about Vietnam’s restrictions on products such as melons, live cattle, beef, and meat and bone meal through delays in negotiating International Sanitary Certificates and requests for more information than what is scientifically needed to perform risk analysis.

Vietnam’s representative said because of the fast increase in agricultural imports in recent years it had to adjust legislation to ensure protection of human, animal or plant life and health.

The other three new STCs were from Argentina regarding Turkey’s foot-and-mouth-disease (FMD) related import restrictions on live cattle, an issue raised by Brazil on Ukraine’s restrictions on swine products after a case of classical swine fever in October 2018, and problems around a pest risk analysis before Japan opens its market to Brazilian avocados.

Six STCs previously brought up included EU policies on MRLs of certain pesticides; France’s dimethoate-related restrictions; new definition of the fungicide folpet; and an EU Commission decision on animal products.

Past issues raised by the EU included Russia’s import restrictions on processed fishery products from Estonia; South Africa’s restrictions on poultry due to highly pathogenic avian influenza; Indonesia’s approval procedures for animal and plant products; U.S. import restrictions on apples and pears; and general restrictions due to BSE.

The committee also heard concerns regarding Guatemala’s restrictions on egg products; Indonesia’s food safety measures affecting horticultural and animal products; China’s official certification requirements for food imports; and proposed amendments to implementation regulations on safety of agricultural genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The next regular committee meeting is planned for Nov. 7 and 8.

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