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EU dioxin alert

India’s guar gum exports may be hit in the short term after the EU food safety experts issued a recent alert on high levels of dioxins in gum shipments from an Indian supplier, experts said.

India accounts for nearly 80% of world trade in guar gum, a food additive extracted from the guar bean. Swiss company Unipektin AG, which supplies guar gum products to EU markets, recalled several batches of food additives containing guar gum sent by India Glycols on July 30. Swiss authorities have told the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm that administers EU policy and standards, that nine EU countries had received guar gum consignments from Unipektin. There are no details yet on the quantities involved.

Last week, EC food safety experts alerted national authorities in the EU-27 to detain guar gum exports from India Glycols, and test consignments for pentachlorophenol and dioxin. Guar gum coming from other suppliers will also be sampled. Hungary has already blocked the sale of several items from a wide range of food, feed and drug products after finding dioxin levels that exceeded the EU’s permitted maximum. “Indian exports will definitely be affected in the short term,” said Debjani Roy, executive director, Shellac and Forest Products. Export Promotion Council, which promotes guar gum exports.

Guar gum is used as an additive in a wide variety of foods: dairy products such as yogurts, ice-cream and soft cheese, bread, pasta, ham, sausages, prepared fish and pastries. It is also used in animal feed. Guar gum tends to be preferred over other additives and is used as a food emulsifier, thickener and stabilizer. Only India and Pakistan export raw guar gum, while China exports processed gum that it imports from India and Pakistan. If a contaminated guar gum batch has already been used for food production, experts in EU member states will check whether the batch complies with EU rules on maximum dioxin levels. If the products comply with EU standards, they can remain on the market, a Commission official said. But if they do not, “a withdrawal/recall from the market has to be ordered,” he said to Reuters. While the source of the contamination was still unknown, it was certainly linked to the presence of pentachlorophenol, he said, adding that there was no evidence yet to suggest that other suppliers than India Glycols were involved.

Most importers are asking for test certificates for the presence of toxic substances in guar gum, adding to costs and raising exporter fears that their clients may seek alternatives. India exported (rupees) 1,300  crore ($325 million) worth of guar gum in 2006-07, mainly to the US and Europe. “The present cost of certification is very high and most guar gum exporters being small, it is very difficult for them to afford the cost,” a senior official in the commerce ministry said. Only the Hyderabad-based Vimta Specialities Lab is equipped to test guar in India, and it costs 25,000 rupees ($618) per tons.
“It is impossible to set up infrastructure for affordable testing in the next six months,” he added. (