Europe?s Food Safety Watchdog Investigates Potential Fallout from Iceland?s Volcanic Eruption

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IcelandFood headlines related to the volcano that erupted in Iceland on April 14 so far have focused on the air transport chaos and its impact on imports and business travel. But with smoke still billowing from the volcano, the European Commission has started asking questions about how the ash cloud will affect food safety and animal health, according to an April 22 article published by FoodNavigator.com.

In a letter dated April 20 to the European Food Safety Authority, the EU?s eight-year-old watchdog for the food industry, the commission requested urgent advice on the contamination risks to the feed and food chain that could arise from ash fallout.

?Volcanic ash is made up of tiny pieces of glassy sand and dust produced when explosive eruptions demolish solid rock or spray lava into the sky, where it solidifies before falling,? the letter says. ?Taking into account the chemical composition of the ashes, questions could be raised on potential contamination of the food and feed chain and the related risks for public and animal health. In particular the presence of significant levels of fluorine in the ash could potentially affect the health of animals in case of ash fallout.?

The Commission also asked the EFSA to look into the effectiveness of mitigation measures, such as washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly. EFSA responded on April 21 that it will prepare initial advice on short-term risks from direct exposure of animals and plants to ash in the EU by today, April 23, and will follow up with an investigation into the long-term risks related to indirect exposure. Results of the follow-up investigation will be delivered within a month, EFSA said.

Food imported into the EU, such as seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables from Africa, would not be at risk of contamination from the volcanic ash and therefore would not be covered in the investigation. Indeed, imports from countries not affected by the ash likely will increase if evidence of contamination is found in EU plant and animal life. The EU alone absorbs some 85 percent of Africa?s agricultural exports.??? ?

The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries, which represents the EU?s food manufacturing industry, said it welcomed the decision to launch the investigation.

EFSA, meanwhile, has already put together a team of experts, including specialists in contaminants, animal feed and data collection, to analyze the composition of the volcanic ash and evaluate potential exposure levels. The team will also liaise with national, EU and international organizations, including national food safety authorities of EU member countries and the World Health Organization.

In Britain, a spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency told FoodNavigator.com that the regulator ?does not consider it to be a food safety issue at present,? adding that the agency was following the lead of the country?s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The department said in a statement that ?there continues to be no recorded impact on air quality, water quality or water supply, and no immediate concerns for animal health or crop production following the volcanic eruption in Iceland.?

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