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GMOs and mycotoxins on Government Chemist’s radar

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Recent cases requiring the Government Chemist’s help have ranged from genetically modified rice from China to pesticides and mycotoxins in different foods, according to a referee analyst.

Paul Hancock told attendees at the Government Chemist Conference that a variety of technically complex cases are being received with the workload returning to normal after a decline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government Chemist resolves scientific disputes in the food and feed sectors, gives advice to regulators and industry, and carries out research.

Disputes mainly occur between a local or port health authority, who typically use their public analyst laboratory to analyze the sample and a food business, who can choose any lab to test their sample. Resolving disputes avoids court hearings and cases going to trial. Court cost savings have been estimated at £150,000 ($189,000) per case.

Examples of work
In 2021, 11 cases were received, compared to seven the year before. Eight cases were disputes around GMOs in rice or rice products from China. While two cases were ongoing, three consignments were allowed entry into the UK and three were not.

Others focused on the presence of the pesticide thifluzamide in an organic peanut product and aflatoxin in dried figs. The peanut product was deemed compliant in terms of pesticide levels but should not have been labeled as organic due to the use of this pesticide. The fig sample was judged to be non-compliant.

Another case was referred to the Government Chemist by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and concerned the assessment of scientific data submitted in a dispute around the structure of a liposomal vitamin C product.

An assessment found that not enough care was taken when preparing the sample for analysis, potentially leading to false or misleading results and there was insufficient quality control by the labs conducting the analysis. Data presented by both parties was considered weak, with the complainant not proving the absence of liposomes and the food business not proving their presence.

Hancock gave other examples of cases including nitrofurans in prawns, where a sample was deemed non-compliant because of the presence of furazolidone (AOZ).

Of four mycotoxin cases, three involved aflatoxin and one ochratoxin A. All samples were non-compliant. They included shell peanuts, curry powder and figs. Ochratoxin A in a raisin sample also meant the product was non-compliant.  

A flaxseed sample was permitted entry to the UK after analysis for the fungicide captan. Analysis for dinotefuran in jasmine tea was satisfactory because of analytical uncertainty.

Maintaining expertise
In another joint talk, Jane White and Jon Griffin spoke about government funding to support the Official Control Laboratory (OCL) infrastructure. 

The duo highlighted a fall in the number of OCLs in recent years and concerns around the aging Public Analyst profession.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) is helping the four Public Analyst labs in the country with discussions at the agency’s board meeting around the current and future delivery model.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is providing grant funding to the five OCLs in England and Wales for equipment, research, training and sampling to ensure competency is maintained.

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