The European Commission has adopted a report on food irradiation in the EU, which includes information on whether irradiated food placed on the EU market is correctly labelled.

The report, which the Commission says is the first of its kind, is based on the results of checks undertaken by national authorities in the European Union Member States. In general, the report indicated a high level of compliance with the requirements of the EU food irradiation Directive. However, the United Kingdom authorities found evidence of irradiation in 42% of certain dietary supplements. As most of these supplements cannot be irradiated legally in the EU, the Commission has asked the other Member States to check this particular sector.

David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs, said: “This report helps us to identify where we should focus our attention in future as regards irradiated food, to ensure that the rules are respected and that consumers are properly informed.”

Irradiated food in the EU

The irradiation of dried aromatic herbs and spices is authorised across the whole of the EU. Five Member States (Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, UK) also allow the marketing of certain irradiated foods for example fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, poultry, shrimps, fish or frog legs on their national territory. Directive 1999/2/EC requires all irradiated foods to be labelled with the words “irradiated” or “treated with ionising radiation” to allow consumers to make an informed choice.

This labelling requirement also applies to irradiated food ingredients, present in small amounts in compound foods. Analytical methods can determine whether or not foods have been irradiated. The Directive also states that irradiation of food can only take place in facilities approved by the competent authorities of Member States, and that such facilities must provide information on the amounts of foods treated. Member States are required to report to the Commission on an annual basis.

Results of the Commission report

The report compiles the results of these checks for the period September 2000 to December 2001. In this period, only six Member States gave approval to facilities on their territory to irradiate foods (Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the UK). The individual reports of the Member States indicate that the facilities mostly complied with the requirements of the Directive.

Eight Member States (Austria, Germany, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, UK) performed checks on foods placed on the market. The results show that only a few irradiated products are on the market that are not correctly labelled. These products are herbs, spices or foods containing herbs or spices, frog legs, shrimps and vegetables.

However, in the United Kingdom, the authorities found that 42% of certain dietary supplements are irradiated (aloe vera, alfalfa, cat’s claw, devil’s claw, garlic, ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, guarana, kava kava, saw palmetto, silymarin, turmeric). As the treatment of these products except garlic and ginger by ionising radiation is not allowed in the EU, other Member States have been asked by the Commission to check specifically this sector additionally to the UK, in order to ensure that the requirements of the Directive are respected.

In total, more than 6500 food samples have been checked of which 1.5 % were found to have been irradiated but were not labelled as such.

The report is available in all EU languages by clicking here:

To read a news story published yesterday about pending legislation on irradiation in the US, click here.