Pesticide findings in organic sesame from India
by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)
For a good two months now, findings of the banned active ingredient ethylene oxide have been accumulating in the EU. The origin is sesame seeds that come from India. Conventional and organic companies are affected.
Many products have had to be recalled by manufacturers since late October because they contained sesame seeds with residues of ethylene oxide (EO), which is suspected of being carcinogenic. There could be more, as investigations by food authorities are still underway. The laboratories, according to one manufacturer, are barely keeping up with the tests.
Every second delivery is examined
India is one of the EU's major sesame suppliers. Since salmonella cases have occurred repeatedly, the EU has stipulated that every fifth delivery of sesame from India must be tested for the pathogen. This may have led to Indian exporters increasingly disinfecting their goods with EO, which is permitted there. The risk of detection is low, because the substance is not detected by standard pesticide screening and must be analyzed individually. This is an effort that importers usually do not make.
A conventional Belgian company nevertheless reported the finding. On September 9, it appeared in the European rapid alert system RASFF and drew a rat's tail of investigations. Contaminants turned up in other sesame shipments, and on October 13, organic sesame that had entered the EU via the Netherlands was in the RASFF for the first time. Since October 26, every second shipment of sesame from India across the EU has to be tested for EO. In parallel, India stopped exporting sesame to the EU, Mundus Agri reported.
The GMP+ certification program has published a list of Indian companies in whose sesame shipments EO has been detected. Two of them have organic in their names: Nature Bio Foods and Organic Products India. For the others, it is not apparent whether they also imported organic sesame into the EU.
Ethylene oxide: Banned due to suspected carcinogenic effect
Ethylene oxide (EO) is a reactive, toxic gas and is used to produce certain chemicals, such as surfactants. But EO is also used to fumigate spices, nuts and oilseeds to disinfect them. "In the case of sesame, this is intended to kill any intestinal bacteria (e.g. salmonella) that may be present, which are often detected there," explains the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Office in Stuttgart (CVUA).
In the EU, EO has been banned as a pesticide since 1991 because it is classified as a carcinogen and mutagen. In other countries such as India or the USA, it may still be used. Oilseeds such as sesame imported into the EU may contain a maximum of 0.05 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of EO.
In the case of organic products, a value of 0.01 mg/kg would already lead to the suspicion that the goods had been fumigated with an unauthorized agent. EO decomposes relatively quickly to form 2-chloroethanol, about whose harmfulness little is known. Therefore, as a precaution, the limit value applies to the sum of ethylene oxide and 2-chloroethanol. In organic sesame, contents of several mg/kg were measured in most cases.