The European Commission’s health and safety unit has published two reports looking at controls of fishery products in Spain and Saudi Arabia.

An audit in Spain in February and March 2023 by DG Sante made three recommendations.

The visit concluded that official controls over vessels freezing tuna provide confidence that they follow EU rules; however, there are inconsistencies in compliance with national regulations on frozen tuna for human consumption.

Spain has set criteria for tuna frozen in brine to be eligible for direct human consumption. These require that operators of freezer vessels conduct a validation study of the freezing process against parameters that must be assessed and approved by the authorities.

However, although all but one operator has not concluded their validation studies, they are being allowed to put products on the market for direct human consumption, found auditors.

System weaknesses
Products from the freezer ships may enter Spain through other country vessels where, upon import, controls consist of verification of the brine temperature and freezing times. Product from Spanish freezer vessels directly landed in the EU is not subject to additional control.

“This undermines the effectiveness and robustness of the official control system aimed at verifying compliance of Spanish vessels with national rules, but also implies an extension of these rules to products from other countries,” said auditors.

From 2020 to 2022, 49 Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) reports covered tuna from Spain. Most were under the food additives and flavorings hazard category. Two examples were reviewed during the audit. One was related to excessive amounts of ascorbic acid; another covered histamine levels above the regulatory limits in tuna filets. These notifications were thoroughly followed up, and in all investigations, it was possible to trace the product to the producing freezer vessels.

The audit team noted that full approval was granted to one new freezer vessel in early 2021 despite the report indicating that some documentary information was not complete during the assessment, which was mandatory under Spanish rules to carry out some of the processes on board. At the time of the audit, authorities had not received the documents and information to comply fully.

Spanish officials said changes will be made by June 2024 to improve conditional approval processes.

All imported consignments of tuna frozen in brine for human consumption, from October 2021 to January 2022, were harmful for histamine. From January 2022, officials moved to a random monitoring sampling plan.

For one of three recommendations made during a 2019 audit on official controls in the tuna sector, the actions proposed addressed the issue and had been satisfactorily implemented. For the other two, measures were in progress but had not yet been fully implemented.

Saudi Arabia verdict
A desk assessment of Saudi Arabian controls on fishery products sent to Europe led to one recommendation. This work precluded onsite verification on implementing official controls and certification processes.

Based on information provided by Saudi Arabia, it was concluded there was the necessary legal framework, authority structures, and legal powers for a control system to work.

However, the limits for specific contaminants were not aligned with European rules, compromising the reliability of health attestations made in the EU export certificate.

EU member states were first authorized to import fishery products from Saudi Arabia in 2005. There are three EU-listed establishments. Almost all exports are frozen shrimps from aquaculture.

Official controls do not cover additives, and this type of testing is carried out by food companies and checked during controls at their premises.

In the case of benzo(a)pyrene for fishery products, including crustaceans, the maximum level of 5 µg/kg exceeded the limit of 2 µg/kg set in EU regulation in April 2023. To address this issue, Saudi Arabian officials provided an updated Manual of Procedures for Exports of Shrimp and Finfish.

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