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Following a request from the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published on 9th November 2016 a scientific opinion on the risks for animal and human health related to the presence of erucic acid in feed and food.

Erucic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid belonging to the omega-9 group. Its chemical name is cis-13-docosenoic and it is abbreviated as 22:1 (n-9) or 22:1 (ω-9).

It is a natural plant toxin which is present at high concentrations mainly in the seeds of species of the Brassicaceae (e.g. rape seed or mustard seed and also seeds from vegetable crops such as kales, cabbages and turnips). In many cold-climate countries, rapeseed is the main source of vegetable oil intended for human consumption, for dressing, frying or making fats to make margarines, pastries and infant milks. It also enters the food chain because of the use of oil and rapeseed meal in the manufacture of feed.

When the maximum levels of erucic acid were established by Regulation (EC) 1881/2006, it was found necessary to review these levels in the future, based upon an updated risk assessment, and also to consider the appropriateness of establishing maximum levels for erucic acid in feed.

In this opinion EFSA has estimated dietary exposure using data from 12,444 food samples collected between 2000 and 2015 (half in 2014) in 15 European countries, and has indicated the following:

For most people, the main contributor to food exposure to erucic acid is the food group called "Fine bakery products." In infants (<12 months of age) is the food group for “infants and children”.

Regulation (EC) 1881/2006 currently sets a maximum level of 50 g/kg of erucic acid in vegetable oils and fats, as well as in foodstuffs including that, and 10 g/kg in foodstuffs for children and infant formulas. The EFSA has established a Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of 7 mg/kg body weight and day of erucic acid. The mean chronic exposure of the different population groups does not exceed the TDI and is between 0.3 mg/kg and 4.4 mg/kg body weight per day. However, the level of dietary exposure was higher in infants and children, ranging from 1.3 to 7.4 mg/kg body weight per day, which is a risk for young people with high exposure to erucic acid, since the highest level of this range coincides with the value of TDI.

In pigs, levels of erucic acid are unlikely to represent a health concern. However, for poultry, the small margin between the lowest observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) and the estimated exposure may indicate a health risk where maximum inclusion rates are applied. Due to the absence of adequate data, the risk for ruminants, horses, fish and rabbits could not be assessed.

Among the recommendations proposed by EFSA is the need to collect more data on the presence of erucic acid in food and feed, particularly in processed foods such as fine bakery products, infant and child foods, and composite foods.

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