The system for monitoring chemical contamination of food in France works well most of the time but has some gaps, according to ANSES.

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) assessed the surveillance and control scheme in place between 2010 and 2014 for inorganic and organic contaminants excluding toxins, mycotoxins, marine biotoxins and plant toxins.

Checks for monitoring chemical contamination of food such as trace metal elements in milk were regarded as suitable and able to address health and regulatory issues in nearly three-quarters of cases.

However, in 16.8 percent of cases, mainly heavy metals in certain fish and seafood, mycotoxins in pulses and nuts, and acrylamide in snacks, desserts, cereals and cereal products, improvement is needed, according to ANSES. On less than 10 percent of occasions the relevance of maintaining regulations should be examined.

Best use of resources
For non-regulated substances, ANSES suggested scaling down monitoring in 66 percent of cases to concentrate efforts on 26.1 percent of the substance/foodstuff pairs that are not regulated but cause concern, such as PCBs and PCDD/Fs – dioxins, furans and chlorinated products – in eggs and egg products, or nitrate in fruit and such products.

The agency also recommended regulating chemical-food pairs such as PCBs and PCDD/Fs in meat products, plant toxins in pulses and nuts, and certain perfluorinated compounds in meat and meat products, fish and seafood, eggs and egg products, and milk and milk products.

Foodstuffs are monitored through surveillance and control plans which are governed by European regulations but a revision of the Official Controls Regulation means member states have more choice in the organization of risk-based controls.

ANSES was asked for input on developing the plans to maintain and reinforce the level of safety for consumers and optimize surveillance resources and costs. The agency acknowledged findings relate to the control system as it was five years ago so some findings may no longer be relevant.

Almost 600 recommendations
The quality of data available was an issue in some cases, according to ANSES. The data set used in the study included almost 14,800 samples from 2010, nearly 17,000 from 2011, 22,500 from 2012,  almost 23,000 in 2013 and just over 29,300 in 2014. Almost 40,000 of these were inorganic contaminants, more than 43,000 were organic contaminants, almost 11,900 were mycotoxins, 10,500 marine biotoxins and 2017 plant toxins. Samples came from border inspection and veterinary activities, farming, fishery activities, manufacturing, slaughtering and retail sale.

A working group made 576 recommendations in four categories of actions: “Maintain” which means the monitoring system is effective; “reinforce” signifies weaknesses were identified in monitoring, “create” is for substances and products where there could be legislation and “reduce” which highlights areas were regulation and surveillance could be scaled back.

It was recommended to assess the relevance of implementing rules for 32 non-regulated substance and matrix pairs such as opioid alkaloids (codeine, morphine and teabaine) in legumes, nuts and oil seeds and nitrate in vegetable products.

Other areas identified were the relevance of maintaining the regulations for 10 couples of substances and matrices including mycotoxins Fumonisin and Zearalenone in snacks, desserts and other foods and inorganic tin in fish and seafood.

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