Memorandum from the Food Standards Agency
Survey of Ethyl Carbamate in WhiskyMay
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,
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
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
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
Labelling of Foods containing Genetically Modified
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
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
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
Food Standards Agency Scotland
26 February 2001