A new EC regulation due to come into force on 25 January will require additional sampling and residue checks on a range of fresh produce from specific non-EU countries. The regulation is being introduced to search for traces of pesticides, chemicals and other harmful agents from high-risk areas, the EC said.
Bananas, mangoes, peppers and aubergines from the Dominican Republic; pears, courgettes and tomatoes from Turkey; and a range of vegetables from Thailand are among the first items slated for additional checks, although the roster will change regularly.
Produce could end up rotting while it sits in port awaiting testing, warned the Fresh Produce Consortium. "The FSA's timeframe for holding fresh produce on average 10 to 15 days is totally unacceptable given the highly perishable nature of these products," said FPC chief executive Nigel Jenney. "It will result in product being unfit for use, leading to loss of retail value of between £2m-£5m each year and unnecessary wastage."
Storage costs at the designated ports of entry could also hit £150,000 per year, Jenney added, with administrative, inspection and sampling costs on top.
One importer of fruit from the affected countries claimed the new regulations had little obvious benefit. "It doesn't seem practical," he said. "Everyone sends product away for residue testing on a regular basis anyway."
The FPC has called for the implementation to be delayed to give the industry more time, but an FSA spokeswoman effectively ruled that out. "The industry has known about this for a year or two and we've been in regular contact with them," she said. "The responses from the consultation will be fed into the statutory instrument and we are aware of concerns over food being held. If products are on that list there is a reason for that. Consumer safety is of the utmost concern."