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The European Commission has again extended temporary food safety rules in official controls due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated legislation says the flexibility given to EU countries is needed as problems are likely to continue in the coming months and to help authorities plan inspections.

Officials from member states told the EU Commission that due to the COVID-19 crisis, there are some serious disruptions in their control system, due to difficulties in conducting official controls and other activities on official certificates and certifications that dealing with the movement of animals and goods in and within the EU will continue beyond July.

Interim measures until September
The rules, which went into effect in March 2020, were extended for the fourth time in February and were due to expire this month, but now last until September 2021. Official checks are made by authorities in EU countries to verify that businesses are in compliance with legislation on animal feed and feed, animal health and welfare, plant health and plant protection products.

Previously, 19 countries including Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden were known to have used the measures. They include official remote controls and scanned or electronic documents that are accepted for certain goods.

Issues included clinical animal examination, certain controls on products of animal origin, plant products and food and feed of non-animal origin, and testing of samples in official laboratories.

The latest update does not mention the possibility of allowing people authorized by national authorities to carry out official checks and other such tasks that were added to the February review. They had to follow the instructions given by the authority, act impartially and have no conflict of interest.

COVID plan for products sold online
Meanwhile, the European Commission has updated the findings from a coordinated action plan on online offers and food advertising related to COVID-19.

In 2020, national authorities discovered that more products sold online were being advertised as having a positive effect on protection against coronavirus infection. A claim not yet substantiated by scientific evidence. So in April 2020, the EU Commission called on countries to strengthen vigilance and adjust controls to cover the issue.

Reported national and cross-border cases have hardly changed in recent months with a total of 545 national and 88 cross-border alerts in early June. The action has been taken in 500 cases, with this in cooperation with e-commerce platforms in almost 100 cases. The number of ongoing investigations is about 150.

The offer has been withdrawn for more than 170 cases, health claims have been removed or amended more than 220 times, fines have been distributed in almost 90 cases and several orders have been issued.

Italy has been included in more than 200 reports, with Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and France concluding the top five. Dietary foods, supplements and fortified foods are the main category of products implicated, while only a small proportion relates to cocoa preparations, coffee and tea; herbs and spices; royal honey and jelly; or fats and oils.

Memories of ethylene oxide persist
Finally, 10 months after Belgium raised the alarm for the first time about the unauthorized substance ethylene oxide in products from India with sesame seeds, memories are continuing across Europe.

Thousands of conventional and organic products with long shelf life such as cereals, chocolate, biscuits, bread, crackers, sesame oil and frying pan are affected.

The information indicates the deliberate use of ethylene oxide in most cases to reduce or eliminate microbiological contamination due to Salmonella during seed storage and it is suspected that its use as a disinfectant has continued for several years.

The European Commission tightened controls on sesame seeds from India in October 2020 and increased tests at border control posts. In that month, a meeting of food and feed crisis coordinators was held and the problem was discussed again in November 2020 and February and June 2021 in the Phytopharmaceuticals and pesticide residues section of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Foods and Foods.

In November 2020, the European Spice Association (ESA) asked all member companies to share data on ethylene oxide in herbs and spices to obtain a summary of possible overruns. The data show that about 7 percent of all analyzes were above the Maximum Residue Level (MRL) for ethylene oxide.

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