On 11 February 2015, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH) (made up of EU Member States representatives and chaired by the European Commission) voted on the draft Regulation setting maximum levels for inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products.
The proposal finds it origin in a scientific opinion by EFSA that was published in 2009 followed by EFSA's February 2014 report on dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic in the EU population.
The 2009 EFSA opinion focuses mainly on inorganic arsenic (the more toxic form in which arsenic can appear). The EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) compared amounts of arsenic that people could consume through food and drinks to levels which may cause certain health problems. It made a distinction between exposure rates found in infants and toddlers v. adults. It singled out grain-based processed products as the main contributor, followed by rice, milk and dairy products and water, with milk and dairy products being the main contributor for levels found in infants and toddlers. As there was little or no difference between the two, the Panel recommended that exposure to inorganic arsenic should be reduced. However, the Panel also highlighted considerable uncertainties in relation to its risk assessment. It stressed the need for more data on levels of organic and inorganic arsenic in different foodstuffs, as well as on the relationship between arsenic intake levels and possible health effects. Following this initial opinion more data was gathered and stakeholder consultations were held which resulted in the publication of the February 2014 Report on dietary exposure.
The new measure proposes different maximum levels for different types of rice (brown rice v. white rice, for example), and also provides for specific levels for rice to be used for infants and young children preparations. The levels established are as follows:
- non-parboiled / white / standard rice: 0,2 mg/kg
- parboiled or husked rice: 0,25 mg/kg
- rice waffles / crackers etc.: 0,30 mg/kg
- rice intended to prepare food for infants or young children: 0,1 mg/kg
The draft Regulation will amend the existing EU Contaminants Regulation (Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 of 19 December 2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs) and will now be subject to so-called "scrutiny" by the European Parliament and the Council. If neither of these institutions raises objections within three months, the adopted Commission Regulation will be published in the EU Official Journal.
Member States consider that since industry was involved and part of the process, a short transition period should apply. We understand that the maximum levels for inorganic arsenic in rice are proposed to apply as from 1 January 2016.