STC Number - 325

EU regulations on cadmium in cocoa beans

Maintained by: European Union
Raised by: Colombia; Ecuador
Supported by: Brazil; Cameroon; Costa Rica; Cuba; Dominican Republic; Ghana; Guatemala; Jamaica; Mexico; Nicaragua; Peru; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
First date raised: October 2011 G/SPS/R/64, paras. 39-41
Dates subsequently raised: July 2012 (G/SPS/R/67, paras. 141-143)
October 2012 (G/SPS/R/69, paras. 36-39)
Number of times subsequently raised: 2
Relevant documents: G/SPS/GEN/1173/Rev.1; RD/SPS/28/Rev.1
Products covered: 18 Cocoa and cocoa preparations

Cocoa and cocoa products
Primary subject keyword: Food safety
Keywords: Food safety; Human health; Maximum residue limits (MRLs); International Standards / Harmonization
Status: Partially resolved
Solution: Information was received from Ecuador on the partial resolution of this STC.
Date reported as resolved: 02/11/2017

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In October 2011, Ecuador expressed concern that the European Union was considering modifying the maximum level of cadmium in cocoa and cocoa products, and was planning to apply a maximum limit between 0.3 and 0.5 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg), in the context of Regulation (EU) No 420/2001. Ecuador urged the European Union to base any maximum limits on cadmium on appropriate scientific studies. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) had established a level of acceptable weekly consumption of 5.8 micrograms of cadmium per kilogram of body weight (µg/kg), more than twice the tolerable weekly intake concluded by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). Ecuador requested further information on the EU risk analysis, and stressed that any possible maximum residue limit (MRL) should be set as low as reasonably possible (ALARP principle). Some of Ecuador's soil contained cadmium, but it had adopted mitigation measures so as to produce high-quality cocoa not detrimental to human health.

Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela shared the concerns raised by Ecuador. They asked the European Union to provide the technical and scientific basis on which it was considering regulating cadmium in cocoa and chocolate, and stressed that any possible maximum limits should be based on science.

The European Union recalled that neither it nor Codex had established a maximum level for cadmium in cocoa or cocoa products to date. However, JECFA had reviewed its toxicity in commodities in 2010 and set the tolerable weekly intake at approximately six micrograms per kilogram of body weight. In contrast, EFSA had identified a lower tolerable weekly intake of 2.5 µg/kg of body weight in 2009 and in 2010. Based on the 2009 and 2010 EFSA scientific opinions for cadmium, the European Union had initiated a review of maximum levels for cadmium in different types of foodstuffs, including chocolate and cocoa products sold to the final consumer, since cocoa and chocolate products contribute significantly to human exposure and in particular exposure of children. Discussions were still on-going, but any limits would be based on realistic occurrence data of cadmium in cocoa and cocoa products compiled from different geographical origins and would be set as low as reasonably achievable.

In July 2012, Ecuador, on behalf also of Cameroon, Colombia, Ghana, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru, recalled the previously raised concern about the EU decision to amend Regulation (EC) No. 1881/2006 to modify the maximum acceptable levels of cadmium in cacao and chocolate products (G/SPS/GEN/1173/Rev.1). The co-authors requested the European Union to clearly demonstrate the relative contribution of chocolate to dietary cadmium exposure and its adverse effects. In light of the significant differences in the JECFA and EFSA recommendations for tolerable weekly intake (TWI) and tolerable monthly intake (TMI) levels for cadmium, they urged the European Union to convene a joint EFSA-JECFA meeting with a view to reaching an agreement on the methodology used to establish such limits, and the outcomes. They stressed that the European Union should ensure that any limit it applied was in accordance with the SPS Agreement, and should take into account new data to review and harmonize methodologies to determine the cadmium content in relevant chocolate products. They also requested that, if the new measure were adopted, the European Union allow a transition period of at least five years, to permit producers to adapt to the measures. Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela echoed this concern.

The European Union noted that this was not a new concern, and that they were prepared to respond despite this being raised under "Other Business". The EU clarified that any amendment to Regulation 1881/2006 was intended to focus primarily on foodstuffs for which no maximum levels for cadmium currently existed. Maximum levels for other foodstuffs - such as vegetables and cereals which also contributed cadmium to the daily diet - already existed and therefore would not be treated in the proposal currently under discussion. The new proposal would instead focus on those foodstuffs such as chocolate/cocoa products and baby foods, for which no maximum levels were established. The European competent authorities were currently evaluating the data provided by cocoa producers in the past months and EU member States would discuss the maximum residue limits (MRLs) for cadmium in cocoa products this autumn. Differing consumption patterns of different chocolate products would be taken into consideration in the establishment of the MRLs, and a reasonable transition period provided. The European Union took this issue very seriously and looked forward to continuing dialogue with interested Members.

Codex stated that the issue of MRLs for cadmium in cocoa products was currently under discussion, and relevant data provided by members would be evaluated by JECFA. The issue would be addressed at the next session of Executive Committee of the Codex Alimentarius Commission in June 2013.

In October 2012, Ecuador explained that it had learned through the Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG-SANCO) of the European Commission that new maximum levels of cadmium in food were being considered. A summary report of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health showed a clear discrimination between cocoa products and other food stuffs. The European Commission's proposal focused only on products for which no maximum levels existed; but differentiated between chocolate and cocoa products on the one hand and vegetables and cereal products. For the latter products, due to concerns about costs, more time would be given to farmers and food business operators to put measures in place to reduce cadmium levels. This discriminatory treatment was arbitrary, unjustified, and disproportionate and could result in unnecessary restrictions to international trade. Ecuador requested that chocolate and cocoa products receive equal treatment as vegetables and cereals, to prevent any unjustified discrimination. Furthermore, if new cadmium levels were set, these should be based on an appropriate risk assessment, and comply with the WTO principles of proportionality, transparency and consideration of the special needs of developing countries.

Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela supported the concern by Ecuador, further noting that the EU measure would adversely affect the small and subsistence farmers and producers of cocoa in developing countries. The EFSA scientific opinion indicated that chocolate and cocoa products were not the main source of cadmium intake, however the major contributors of cadmium in the diet were not included in the proposed EU regulation. There was no Codex standard for cadmium nor agreed international analytical methods or procedures to determine the presence of cadmium, which made it difficult to compare the levels of cadmium in these foods.

The representative of the WHO indicated that JECFA was scheduled to consider cadmium levels in cocoa at its meeting in June 2013. JECFA had issued a call for data, but not yet received any data from exporting countries regarding their controls on levels of cadmium in cocoa products, or information on cadmium levels at different processing stages.

The European Union acknowledged the concerns of exporting Members and noted that the discussions were still at the technical level with no maximum levels yet proposed. The proposal would initially focus on foodstuffs such as chocolate, cocoa products and baby foods, for which maximum levels did not yet exist, and at a later stage would review other food commodities for which maximum levels already existed. The meeting of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) in October 2012 had provided an opportunity for an exchange of views on the issue and the data provided by some Members on cadmium in cocoa products would be considered. The European Union was confident that a balanced proposal would result from the legislative process and that any negative effects would be kept to a minimum.

In November 2017, the Secretariat informed that in September 2017 it had contacted all Members who had raised specific trade concerns (STCs) that had not been discussed in the previous year, to request an update on their status. In furtherance of this request, information was received from Ecuador on the partial resolution of this STC. The Secretariat indicated that the information received had been circulated in document RD/SPS/28 of 31 October 2017 (RD/SPS/28/Rev.1 circulated on 19/02/2018), and that the SPS IMS would be updated on this basis, using the date of the November 2017 SPS Committee meeting as the date of resolution of the relevant STCs.