Seaweed and chemical contaminants: where do we stand?

To be able to market food products, operators must comply with a certain number of rules to ensure product safety. This safety involves controlling physical, microbiological, allergenic and chemical risks throughout the production chain.

Ó Œil de Paco 2023- ACT FOOD Bretagne

Generally speaking, the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) study makes it possible, thanks to the hazard analysis stage, to identify hazards, determine how often they occur and how serious they are, in order to select the most appropriate control measures to eliminate or reduce the hazard to an acceptable level. But the question remains, how do we determine this acceptable level? Regulations are the first factor to be taken into account. And when it comes to chemical hazards, these regulations are constantly changing!

Until now, the reference regulation for chemical hazards was Regulation (EC) 1881/2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs. As its name suggests, it sets maximum levels for contaminants such as mycotoxins, heavy metals, etc. This regulation was repealed in 2023 and replaced by Regulation (EU) 2023/915 on maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs. But is this a revolution? This new text does not change the main principles: a maximum level is associated with categories of products and a contaminant. A product listed in the regulation that exceeds the associated maximum level cannot be placed on the market. So why a new text? Firstly, to make reading easier by including the footnotes directly in the maximum levels tables. In this way, the notes, specifying for example which part of the food the level applies to, are directly accessible. Work has also been carried out on hazard classification and the vocabulary used to describe product categories.

What about seaweed?

These are included in Regulation (EU) 2023/915, but only when they are used in food supplements. Maximum levels have been set for cadmium, pyrrolizidine alkaloids and PAHs. The regulation does not set maximum levels for algae not used in food supplements. However, in France, recommendations provide information on the levels not to be exceeded in seaweed as food. The first reference is the CSHPF’s 1990 opinion on the application for authorisation to use seaweed as human food. Although relatively old, this opinion gives maximum levels in mg/kg dry weight for lead, tin, mercury, arsenic, iodine and cadmium.

However, for iodine and cadmium, more recent recommendations are to be preferred. The ANSES opinion on the risk of excess iodine intake linked to the consumption of seaweed in foodstuffs (referral n°2017-SA-0086) provides information on iodine intakes that should not be exceeded. For cadmium, the ANSES opinion on “the maximum cadmium content for seaweed intended for human consumption” (referral n°2017-SA-0070) recommends not exceeding 0.35mg/kg of cadmium dry matter in seaweed.

What about tomorrow?

The growing consumption of seaweed means that the legislator must take it into account as a food category in its own right. The European Commission therefore wishes to include seaweed as a food category in Regulation (EU) 2023/915. This means that official European maximum levels will apply. If you market seaweed as a foodstuff, there’s only one thing you need to do: keep an eye out for the publication of these new maximum levels to ensure the safety and conformity of your products.

CEVA’s opinion

At the time of the cadmium referral (No. 2017-SA-0070), CEVA reacted to this new threshold proposal.

In its opinion published on 21 July 2020, ANSES recommends limiting the cadmium concentration in seaweed to 0.35 mg/kg of dry matter, so that the population consuming seaweed does not exceed the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for cadmium in 95% of cases. This recommended threshold of 0.35 mg/kg would effectively mean banning the consumption of certain species (both local and imported), even when they have been traditionally consumed in Asia for centuries and their nutritional benefits are widely recognised.

For CEVA, it is important to emphasise that seaweed is just one of many contributors of heavy metals to our diet. This opinion, founded on the precautionary principle but based on data sets that are still insufficient, should be modulated according to the type of seaweed and the way it is actually consumed as part of a diversified diet.

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