EU phosphate objection causes kebab stir

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04 Dec 2017 --- The future use of phosphate as a food additive is hanging in the balance as European politicians debate whether it should continue to be used with a full Parliament vote due to take place in Strasbourg later this month.

Phosphate additives are used in a multitude of foods to enhance flavor and moisture. These include the frozen meats used regularly in kebabs and also cheese, bran cereals and other baked goods. 

However, in 2012 a study found a possible link between phosphates when used as food additives and heart disease, which led to some concerns from MEPs, including Christel Schaldemose of Denmark, member of the Social Democrats, part of the Party of European Socialists.

Despite the evidence being inconclusive, the European parliament’s health committee recently voted down a European Commission proposal that would have allowed phosphoric acid and polyphosphates in kebab meat made of mutton, lamb, veal, beef or poultry.

This means that the full European parliament will vote on the issue later this month – and if it gets rejected at this stage, the future of phosphate use remains uncertain. 

What does this mean for kebabs?
The kebab sector is particularly concerned over the future of phosphates as the popular late-night snack, considered a delicacy by many in the UK and Germany, could be impacted. 

And a series of articles in the mainstream media over the last few days claiming that the future of the beloved doner kebab is under threat has heightened the issue. However, European politicians have moved quickly to say, at this stage, there is no real suggestion of a ban. 

However, the Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament claim phosphate is being used to increase the weight of meat, due to its water-binding properties, mainly in frozen vertical meat spits, such as doner kebabs. 

The party says that since this meat is not consumed at home, it is not labeled and consumers are not informed.

“As there are significant scientific studies detecting phosphates in meat which prove that they have negative consequences on human health, there should have been no need for this vote. But, now we have voted, I’m pleased a broad majority voted in favor of the objection. This shows we are taking public health serious,” said Schaldemose.

The S&D spokesperson on health Miriam Dalli MEP adds how this “serious issue” should not be ignored and calls for a European Food Safety Authority review. 

“We are questioning the safety of phosphates as food additives when used for the manufacturing and processing of rotating meat splits. We believe that the Commission should take all risks into account when granting authorization to the use of such additives,” she said. 

“When it comes to people's’ health we are cautious because we believe that this is a priority for everyone. That is why we want to wait for a new review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the use of phosphates in food products. There is no rush when it comes to people's’ health. Let’s wait for the new scientific findings to ensure a high level of consumer protection, human health and safety.”

BEUC calls for phosphate-free kebabs and gyros 
As the EU Parliament prepares to vote in plenary next Tuesday (Dec 12) on whether to authorize the use of phosphates in kebabs and gyro meat, The European Consumer Organization is urging MEPs to object.

The Organization has sent a letter to European politicians outlining its main arguments to object to the continued use of phosphates, pointing out that there are health concerns over phosphates and claiming that it’s more prudent to wait for the EU food safety watchdog (EFSA) to conclude its ongoing re-evaluation of phosphate additives before allowing them into more products. 

The results are expected by the end of 2018.

The letter also says that phosphates make it possible for meat to retain more water, meaning a kebab might contain less meat than consumers think. 

BEUC and its member organizations have been denouncing this practice and have consistently opposed the use of phosphates in meat preparations for many years and stress that kebabs can be made without phosphates, claiming there is no convincing technological need to use these additives.

“Member States must better enforce EU rules on food additives in the meat sector. A recent European Commission’s report found national authorities poorly control the use of additives in meat preparations and products,” the letter says. 

“Manufacturers in some countries have reportedly used phosphates (unlawfully) in kebabs for several years. This is per se no valid reason for legalizing their use. In 2013, as some interpretation issues with EU legislation on food additives in the meat sector were brought to light by the meat industry, the European Commission clarified that some member states had been tolerating additive uses that were in fact not permitted under EU. This is the case with phosphates in kebabs and gyros.

“Against this background, we call on you to vote in favor of the phosphates in meat objection next week.”

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