Industry reacts to EU lactic acid vote

The NFU has expressed concern over the EU’s proposal to authorise lactic acid as a decontaminant of beef carcases on the grounds that it may allow beef imports to the UK that “fall short” of the UK’s hygiene standards.  

Last week the European Parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee (ENVI) debated objections against a draft measure to allow food business operators to use lactic acide to reduce microbiological surface contamination at the slaughterhouse. The MEPs failed to reach agreement either for or against the proposals, paving the way for the European Parliament to allow the practice over the next few months.

The proposal came after the European Food Safety Authority conducted an evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of lactic acid for removing microbial surface contamination in beef carcases, cuts and trimmings last July, when it concluded that, though “variable”, the reduction in microbial contamination was “generally significant compared to untreated or water-treated controls”.

However, although the NFU said they supported the proposals on the basis of the scientific evidence and safety grounds, it should only be used as “part of the range of intervention methods available to help reduce the incidence of foodborne pathogens”.

A spokesman said: “The NFU is concerned that as this change to the UK’s current position effectively opens up the market to the potential for new imports, the approval of lactic acid must not be seen as an intervention that can be used in isolation and thus allow the import of goods into the UK that fall short of adhering to the UK’s existing package of good hygiene practices.
 
“For this reason, the NFU’s support for the proposal is only given on the basis that the approval for the use of lactic acid must be used as a spot treatment (as opposed to all bovine carcases) and must form part of good hygienic practices and HACCP-based systems. We see this as essential both from the point of view of maintaining a level playing field for businesses and trade and for the maintenance of good hygienic standards.”  

Both the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) and the European Livestock and Meat Trades Union (UECBV) welcomed the news.

Stephen Rossides of the BMPA said that the measure were a “supplement” to existing hygiene controls that would enhance consumer safety. He said: “Providing the proper contorls are observed, it is aan useful additional measure to have.”

The UECBV also said it would provide “complementary tools” to improve the safety of beef production in the EU, but said it “took on board the EP’s concerns when it comes to when and how to apply the lactic acid”.

ENVI said the objections included the lack of restriction on lactic acid use – for example, the draft motion does not stipulate that lactic acid may only be applied on bovine carcases after post‐mortem inspection when the meat has been declared fit for human consumption, raising the potential risk that the lactic acid on carcases applied before the post‐mortem inspection by an official veterinarian might be used to mask poor hygienic practices on farms or in slaughterhouses. There is also no requirement for beef treated with lactic acid to be labelled as such.

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