BuRO advice concerning the risks of chlorate in food for infants and toddlers
BuRO advices to maintain a maximum chlorate level for infant and toddler food. In addition, BuRO advices to engage with the sector to reduce the chlorate levels in foods intended for these target groups.
BuRO advices to monitor these developments and to collect additional data on specific foods for infants and toddlers. BuRO also recommends to include the findings from the risk assessment in the establishment of European standards for foodstuffs for infants and young children and to implement of the proposed European standard for drinking water quality.
Chlorate can enter food via various routes during the production, for example through the use of chlorinated rinse water, chlorine-based disinfectants and due to the presence of chlorate residues in processing aids and additives. Chlorates have been used in plant protection product in the past, but this is no longer permitted in Europe.
Chronic high exposure to chlorate can lead to impaired thyroid function in humans. It is unlikely that occasional consumption of foods with high chlorate levels leads to acute health effects.
Since 2018, the NVWA has established that the maximum residue level (MRL) of 0.01 mg/kg for chlorate is exceeded in infant and toddler food. This MRL has been established for all non-approved plant protection products. For foods other than those intended for infants and toddlers, an Amending Regulation has recently entered into force in which temporary (higher) MRLs have been set in order to set a more realistic limit value, taking into account the other routes of chlorate introduction. The sector indicates that it is also difficult to maintain the applicable MRL for infant and toddler food.
Based on this information the enforcement Directorate of the NVWA has asked BuRO:
1. What is the impact of higher concentrations of chlorate in foods intended for infants and toddlers on food safety?
2. What is the chlorate concentration below which adverse health effects are not expected in this target group?
3. How do other countries deal with this problem?
Reponses to the questions
BuRO indicates that the applicable MRL of 0.01 mg/kg is sufficiently protective. With long-term consumption of (follow-on) infant formula and ready-to-use commercially available foods for the specific target groups, negative effects on health cannot be excluded at levels above 0.04 mg/kg ready-to-eat product or milk powder. The NVWA's market surveillance shows that some of the food products contain these higher chlorate levels. BuRO recommends to reduce the content in the concerning foods. There are major differences between European countries with regard to the organization of surveillance and enforcement of chlorate in infant and toddler food.
The sector has now drawn up an EU-wide roadmap for reducing chlorate levels in infant and toddler foods, and has indicated that the levels of chlorate have been reduced and the percentage of exceedances has decreased.