Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Food Standards Agency Scotland


Survey of Ethyl Carbamate in Whisky—May 2000

  Ethyl carbamate is a naturally occurring contaminant and is a potential carcinogen in humans.

  Ethyl carbamate is naturally produced during processing of some foods and drinks, particularly in some distilled and fermented foods and drinks such as whisky, beer, wine, yoghurt, bread etc.

  Studies in 1985-92 analysed consumption patterns and ethyl carbamate content of food and drinks and concluded that the major source of dietary exposure to the substance was whisky.

  Following this, the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food and the Environment (COT) recommended that levels in items in the diet should be reduced to the lowest technologically achievable.

  The COT also advised that levels and intakes in the UK diet are generally low, any risk to health resulting from these intakes is small and likely to be much less than the known risks of consuming alcoholic beverages.

  The most recent survey published in May 2000 tested blended and single malt Scotch whiskies and imported whiskies. Results demonstrated that steps recently taken by the Scotch whisky industry had reduced levels of ethyl carbamate in whisky with the mean level significantly lower than in previous surveys.

  Although higher concentrations of ethyl carbamate were found in older aged stock, additional analysis of younger stock showed that levels had fallen in that more recently produced.


  Labelling of food and drink is subject to the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (as amended). The regulations state that foods must be labelled with:

    —  name of the food (or drink)

    —  list of ingredients (which includes any additives and the functions they perform)

    —  appropriate durability indication;

    —  any special storage conditions or conditions of use;

    —  name and address of manufacturer or packer and/or seller established within the EC;

    —  particulars of place of origin or provenance of the food if failure to do so would mislead a purchaser to a material degree as to the true origin or provenance of the food;

    —  instructions for use if it would be difficult to make appropriate use of the food in the absence of such instructions.

  There are additional labelling requirements for products containing sweeteners and aspartame and where nutrition claims are made.

  Any drink with alcoholic strength by volume of more than 1.2 per cent need not bear a list of ingredients. However, prepacked alcoholic drinks with alcoholic strength by volume of more than 1.2 per cent must be labelled with an indication of its alcoholic strength by volume.

  Proposals are being discussed by the European Commission which would lead to the removal of the exemption from EU law of declaring ingredients of alcoholic drinks and components of compound ingredients.

  New EU legislation on nutrition and health claims being discussed.

Labelling of Foods containing Genetically Modified Ingredients

  The approval of genetically modified (GM) foods is regulated by the EC regulation on Novel Foods and Novel Food Ingredients (285/97). This introduced a statutory pre-market clearance system for all novel foods, including those produced using genetic modification.

  The existing UK regulations were extended on 10 April 2000 to include an EC requirement that foods containing GM additives and flavourings and food sold to mass caterers are also labelled. A 1 per cent threshold for the adventitious contamination of non-GM supplies will also come into effect.

  EC regulations require all products containing GM soya and maize (the only products currently on the UK market) to be labelled if they contain novel genetic material (DNA or protein).

  An independent committee of experts, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, advises Ministers on all novel foods, including those produced using genetic modification.

Labelling Action Plan

  In response to consumer concerns the Food Standards Agency has developed a Food Labelling Action Plan which will be pursued on a UK basis over the coming months. Elements of the Action Plan include:

    —  considering how best to respond to concerns about mixed messages and lack of balance in promotion of foods (and drinks) to children;

    —  creating a Task Force on labelling clarity reviewing issues relating to the ease with which consumers are able to obtain information of concern to them from label and making practical recommendations for improvement;

    —  developing a code of practice on the use of voluntary labelling to help ensure the design and use of voluntary labelling schemes follow key principals to reduce the chances of consumers to be confused or mislead;

    —  increasing the amount of information available to consumers "off label" through the use of e-commerce, customer helplines etc.

    —  assessing the enforcement of GM rules, including evaluating detection schemes which is already under way.

Food Standards Agency Scotland

26 February 2001

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