VDo you have Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream in your freezer? Do not eat them especially, they have been contaminated by a pesticide, ethylene oxide (ETO), from vanilla pods from Madagascar.
Is that bad ? If you eat them in France, officially, yes. Elsewhere in Europe, the answer will be significantly different, although the ice creams in question all come from the same Häagen-Dazs factory. Located in Tilloy-lès-Mofflaines, near Arras (Pas-de-Calais), it supplies 90 countries. Only a few will recall and destroy the affected lots.
The strange story of the ETO begins on September 9, 2020, when a Belgian importer detects, during a self-check, traces of a prohibited substance in sesame seeds imported from India. It is an inexpensive and effective pesticide, but banned for food use in the European Union since 1991, due to its proven dangerousness. By inhalation, in large doses, ETO can be fatal. By ingestion, it is classified as carcinogenic and mutagenic.
600 times the maximum threshold
Indian seeds controlled in Belgium show levels of 30.1 mg per kilo (mg/kg). At first glance, it is maddening. The European maximum residue limit (MRL) for ethylene oxide and its metabolite, 2-chloroethanol, is set at 0.5 mg/kg. The threshold is exceeded more than 600 times!
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An alert on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), a European health alert system, was filed on September 9. In France, the General Directorate for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) relays the instruction in mid-September 2020. It orders its departmental directorates for the protection of populations (DDPP) to identify the batches and products concerned. Companies are ordered to carry out analyses. Quickly, these self-checks revealed ETO and its 2-chloroethanol derivative in countless products.
The same scenario is repeated among our European neighbors, to such an extent that doubt arises. Either ETO is the health scandal of the century or there is a misunderstanding. In the spring of 2021, several countries, including Germany and Belgium, decided to no longer carry out systematic recalls. Too often, in fact, the recalled and destroyed products contain doses at the limit of the detectable. Not to mention cases where there is simple suspicion, such as these ice creams containing carob seed extract (used as a thickener) from batches that are themselves contaminated. “The seeds were polluted, no doubt about it, explains an expert, but when we looked in the ice, we found ETO in a tiny quantity, taking into account the dilution. »
Are these ice creams dangerous? It’s not for us to say. There are rules, we respect them.
The products are often above the MRL threshold, but is it reliable? As noted in a Senate report submitted on February 17, 2021, ETO’s maximum residue limit was set to wet finger. Questioned by Senator Laurent Duplomb, the DGCCRF told him that “as ethylene oxide had been used well before the entry into force of the regulations establishing the system for approving active substances and this substance had never been the subject of an application for approval subsequently, the MRL automatically applied to it is the default MRL. » Or 0.5 mg/kg.
Contacted by Point, the General Mills group, which owns the Häagen-Dazs brand, approaches the issue with a certain phlegm. He himself warned the health authorities, following a self-check. “Are these ice creams dangerous? It’s not for us to say. There are rules, we respect them. »
In Canada, where the toxicity of ETO has been properly assessed, the MRL has been set at 7 mg/kg for ETO (or “parts per million”, as Canadians prefer to call it) and at 940 mg/kg. kg for 2-chloroethanol. In other words, a threshold 1,894 times higher than in France, where fraudsters are looking for ETO and 2-chloroethanol…
Are the Canadians too lax or the French too rigorous? Senator Laurent Duplomb did not comment on this specific point, but he noted in his report that “this health alert, the scale of which is in every way exceptional, has not had, at this stage and to the knowledge of the rapporteur , of repercussions noted by the poison control centres”.
In March 2022, the European Health Safety Agency (Efsa) issued an 11-page opinion on the toxicity of ETO. It cites an opinion of the Scientific Committee on Foods of December 4, 2002. Without ruling out any risk, and with the precautions of language which are essential nowadays, this opinion nevertheless underlines that “2-chloroethanol is not carcinogenic for laboratory animals and is not genotoxic in vivo”…
“As of September 17, 2021, specifies the French boss of an agrifood company in Isère, there had been 3,812 ETO recalls in France, relating to more than 12,000 batches, for 175 recalls in Belgium, 31 in Germany. and zero in Spain. After this date, the manager stopped counting, but he points out that the DDPP of his department has devoted a lot of time to this file. “There aren’t enough fraud agents, I agree, but that’s one more reason to get your priorities straight. »