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Ethylene oxide, Indian night and Cypriot sunset

Ethylene oxide - a genotoxic and carcinogenic contaminant - continues to dominate the rankings of the Rapid Alert System on Food and Feed (RASFF). Its use in agriculture, highly prohibited in the EU, is instead allowed in India, from which many come commodities food where it remains.

The Cypriot Commissioner for Health and Food Safety - once again urged by the European Parliament (1) - is only now announcing that strengthened controls at the EU borders would be introduced as early as October 2020, on sesame arriving from India. Not enough to address the problem.

Ethylene oxide, another question from the European Parliament

The Italian MEP Gianantonio Da Re, member of the ENVI Parliamentary Commission (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety), filed a parliamentary question on 14.9.21 with a request for a written answer. (2) Subject, 'Presence of ethylene oxide in food - intervention by the European Commission'.

'Between August and September, several batches of food containing ethylene oxide, a chemical whose use in the food supply chain in Europe is prohibited because it was declared 'carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic', were withdrawn. This substance can contaminate baked goods, cereals, seeds, ice cream and yogurt. '

Indian nocturnal

MEP of Cappella Maggiore (TV) also underlined the recurrence of notifications - in the European rapid alert system on food and feed safety (RASFF) - of goods contaminated by ethylene oxide arriving from India, where its use in agriculture is still admitted.

Into account of what reported, the Hon. Gianantonio Da Re urged the European Commission to evaluate the opportunity to 'strengthen the control systems on products from third countries and sold on the European Union market'.

Reinforced controls in the EU?

The Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides - in the reply 4.11.2021 to the parliamentary question in question (3) - recalled, as usual, the existence of EU rules. On the maximum levels of pesticide residues, in this case. (4)

The Commission he then announced that he already had 'strengthened controls on sesame seeds imported from India in view of the risk of ethylene oxide contamination through a safeguard measure as early as October 2020. '

'Measures to strengthen controls on other basic products possibly contaminated with ethylene oxide are part of the ongoing revision of Regulation (EU) 2019/1793.(5)

Ethylene oxide, RASFF data

The RASFF portal reports 655 notifications of food contaminated with ethylene oxide, in the period 1.1.2019-5.11.2021. And it is useful to note the following:

- 415 notifications, equal to 63,4% of the total, expressly refer to the origin of the contaminated products from India. Seven notifications in seven days, in the last week, are about Indian products,

- only 32 notifications, equal to 4,9% of the total, derive from inspections at the EU borders (border rejection). 95,1% of the food at risk was therefore intercepted late, often after being placed on the retail market.

Other notifications they do not specify the country of origin of the contaminated vegetable raw materials. And it is likely, in many cases, that it is Indian. All the more so as it is spice blends such as curry, of which India is leader global. That is of botanicals intended for the production of food supplements.

Provisional conclusions

'Whatever it takes', the Commission is responsible for adopting effective safeguard measures to prevent the entry of agricultural raw materials, ingredients and food products contaminated with a substance seriously dangerous to human health.

Measures so far adopted in Brussels have proved unable to mitigate serious food safety risks - which have already widely emerged on many categories of products that have reached European consumers - which are still ongoing. The persistence of the problem also demonstrates that it has not been tackled at the root and continues with the new crops.

It is necessary and urgent require that all batches of at-risk commodities arriving from India be accompanied by certificates of analysis and that they be checked at the specially designated control points at the EU borders, with sample analyzes in those same locations.

Dario Dongo


(1) Dario Dongo. Ethylene oxide, recalls in the EU without reinforced border controls. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.9.21/XNUMX/XNUMX,

(2) European Parliament. Question by MEP Gianantonio Da Re (Lega, ID group - Identity and Democracy) with a request for a written answer, 14.9.21 (ENE-004202/2021).

(3) European Commission. Answer by Ms Stella Kyriakides to the parliamentary question referred to in note 2, 4.11.2021.

(4) EC Reg. 396/2005, concerning maximum residue levels of pesticides in or on food and feed of plant and animal origin. Consolidated text as of 10.10.21 on

(5) EU Reg. 2019/1793, on the temporary increase of official controls and emergency measures governing the entry into the Union of certain goods from certain third countries, and which implements regulations (EU) 2017/625 and (EC) no. 178/2002. Consolidated text as of 5.5.21 on

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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