• Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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A fifth of all herbs and spices sold in EU are adulterated, investigation reveals

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By: Pramod Thomas

NEW research has found that almost a fifth of all herbs and spices sold in the EU are suspected of being adulterated with other ingredients, reported The Times.

The largest ever investigation, commissioned by Brussels, into the authenticity of culinary herbs and spices sold to consumers in the EU found that 17 per cent of all products were suspected of containing unauthorised products, colouring or dyes.

The study by the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) highlighted a particular problem with oregano, with almost half of all samples of the herb found to contain other ingredients, mostly olive leaves, the report added.

Seventeen per cent of pepper samples were found to be adulterated, as well as 14 per cent of cumin, 11 per cent of turmeric, 11 per cent of saffron and 6 per cent of paprika/chilli.

According to the report, the JRC carried out almost 10,000 tests on 1,900 samples of mostly ground or crushed herbs and spices, including 63 samples from Ireland,

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), which participated in the research, said mapping the supply chains of these high value, globally traded commodities would help to identify vulnerabilities.

The FSAI’s director of audits and investigation, Peter Whelan, said factors such as seasonality, harvesting time, climate, geographical events and cultural influences “create tension in the marketplace”.

“This causes a large fluctuation in prices and this is what creates food fraud profitability for fraudsters. Food fraud must be tackled to protect the health and interests of consumers. It is also important that while doing that we create a level playing field for compliant industry and that we ensure that fraudsters operating food chains don’t gain unfair competitive advantage,” Whelan was quoted as saying by The Times.

The majority of suspicious samples contained non-declared plant material, while non-authorised dyes were detected in 2 per cent of spice samples. The study found a high level of lead chromate — a compound that can cause damage to the kidney, brain and nervous system — in one sample of turmeric.

About 100,000 tons of herbs and spices are produced in the EU each year with over 379,000 tons imported from non-EU countries, mostly in east Asia.

The JRC said fraudulent manipulation of herbs and spices could occur at each stage within a complex supply chain, from production, shipping and processing until the product reaches the market.

The most common adulteration of herbs and spices involved unapproved ingredients, additives or dyes being added to products or not being lawfully declared in a list of ingredients, the newspaper report said. Some herbs and spices might also have a valuable constituent omitted or removed.

The report said: “Supply chains in the herbs and spices sectors tend to be long, complex and can pass through many countries. Often, herbs and spices are farmed at a subsistence scale in non-EU countries and there are frequently many intermediaries in the supply chain offering opportunities for malpractices and/or fraudulent practices.”

The JRC noted that some spices like paprika and turmeric had a history of fraudulent colour enhancement, while pepper was prone to substitution by other ingredients, The Times report added.

A poll carried out by the European Commission last year found 61 per cent of Europeans were concerned about being misled about the true qualities of food products.

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