Consumer trends driving emerging risks - EREN

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock/Toa55. EREN: A change in consumption habits linked to belief that algae are ‘healthy food’ might trigger higher demand in future
Picture: iStock/Toa55. EREN: A change in consumption habits linked to belief that algae are ‘healthy food’ might trigger higher demand in future

Related tags Photosynthesis Portugal Us food and drug administration

Risks associated with seaweed, use of green tea extracts in supplements and aloe in food have been flagged as issues by the Emerging Risk Exchange Network (EREN).

The network, which includes Member States, the European Commission, US Food and Drug Administration, Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization said new consumer trends were a key driver behind emerging issues.

It discussed 17 potential emerging areas in 2016​ including risk with the use of diosmin and hesperidin, piperine as an ingredient in supplements in Portugal and Echinococcus multilocularis eggs on fruits, vegetables and mushrooms.

Yersinia pseudotuberculosis in raw milk, oxalic acid in green smoothies and an outbreak affecting 45 people linked to raw beetroot were identified as emerging issues​ by the network in 2015.

No follow-up was reported for the first two but earlier this year La direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes (DGCCRF​) in France recommended consumers avoid raw beetroot and reminded people of a 2014 ANSES opinion.

Seaweed health risks

The network said a change in consumption habits linked to the belief that algae are ‘healthy food’ might trigger higher demand and consumption in the future.

Potential health risks are increased risk for iodine intoxication; high arsenic levels in food and risk of groundwater contamination following use of seaweed fertiliser and metal pollution as they can get into food chains via bioaccumulation in primary producers (e.g. seaweed) and may lead to toxic effects.

Other areas are norovirus contamination; risk associated with dinoflagellates producing toxins that can be isolated from macroalgae and cyanobacteria growing on edible marine macroalgae.

The network also identified risks with aloe in food and recommended the EFSA ANS panel be informed of the findings.

It said there was an increasing trend towards trade of the aloe plant, especially for use as food; more interest to use it as food, especially by small producers with limited information on risks associated with the part of it needed and production method.

Other areas of concern are increased demand of the general public, especially sensitive aged groups, for functional foods; no information/under-reporting on the levels in foods; inadequate or no monitoring systems in Member States and limited information on the human exposure levels of aloin by oral route.

Supplements and e-commerce

green tea drink beverage EGCG iStock Chiociolla
Picture: iStock/Chiociolla

Administrations in Norway, Sweden and Denmark have received reports in recent years of liver toxicity linked to food supplements containing green tea extracts.

They contain polyphenols and the major catechin in green tea, (−)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) in higher amount than green tea infusions. High oral doses of EGCG cause hepatotoxicity in animals.

The Food Administration in Portugal (DGAV-DSNA) has received notification registrations for marketing and consumption of supplements containing dosmin and hesperidin.

The Portuguese food safety agency concluded the supplements contained active substances with pharmacological action, in comparable concentrations to authorised medicines.

Products sold as supplements were found to contain piperine as an ingredient, namely ‘Piperine highly concentrated (95%) as natural fat burner’. Daily doses recommended are 10-20 mg/day which are above the ADIs established by EFSA.

“The issues related to food supplements are of particular concern due to a growing demand associated to new distribution channels via the internet that constitute a challenge for enforcement authorities,” ​said the report.

“A database of scientific data on health risks and a European harmonised post-market monitoring system have been recommended by EREN.”

E. multilocularis infection was detected in foxes in several new areas and the incidence of human AE in ‘core’ areas is also increasing.

Vegetables and berries grown close to the ground and mushrooms represent a potential source of infection.

To assess contamination of fresh produce with E. multilocularis eggs a study in a Polish region found the highest level of prevalence (50%) in foxes and the highest number of human AE. It revealed over 23% of positive samples in farmed products.

Picture: iStock

Washing fruits or vegetables does not eliminate E. multilocularis eggs. Cooking (+70°C, five minutes) or deep freezing for -80°C for 48 hours is required to inactivate them. The parasite is not inactivated by industrial freezing temperatures of -30°C.

Communication challenges

An indicator for a climate change driver is outbreaks of neurotoxin tetrodotoxin (TTX) in mussels and oysters, according to the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) approach for identification of emerging risks.

The source of TTX in Dutch waters is unknown. Possible sources are Nemertea, algae or bacteria (Vibrio).

EREN said communication of emerging issues with high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity is ‘particularly challenging’ with different interests of stakeholders and the need for confidentiality.

It added consultations, updates and follow-up can span for several years, annual reports have a large time lapse and information is often obsolete by time of publication and impact/reach is not sufficient as not all stakeholders are aware of the reports.

A pilot project on the applicability of global food chain analysis for identification of vulnerabilities and ways to change is ongoing (AQUARIUS) as well as two agreements with Member States on developing methodologies and tools for emerging risk identification (DEMETER).

Other areas of concern included reduced resources for food law enforcement by authorities, food chains becoming complicated making it more difficult to control all potential risks and production of food by those without full knowledge.

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