August 11, 2011


EU food safety officials back lactic acid use on beef carcass



The European Food Safety Authority has officially supported the use of lactic acid as a safe and effective antimicrobial treatment on beef carcasses, which is in contrast with the current EU protocols that have banned its use and thereby helped limit US beef exports.


The EFSA opinion on lactic acid, given in response to an application by USDA, could benefit US beef exporters whose common use of the antimicrobial in domestic processing has been one of many wrinkles in efforts to expand access to the EU.


EFSA scientists concluded that treatments using lactic acid solution concentrations of 2-5% at temperatures of up to 55 degrees C (131 degrees F) by spraying or misting are safe as long as the substance complies with EU specifications for food additives.


The body recommended that processors, per HACCP principles, verify concentration, temperature and other factors affecting efficacy. It also recommended processors validate the antimicrobial efficacy under their own processing conditions.


EFSA has given its recommendations to the European Commission for a final say. Andrea Mead, press secretary for the US Trade Representative, said that USTR hopes the decision comes quickly.


"Scientific evidence shows that the use of lactic acid as a PRT (pathogen reduction treatment) reduces the incidence of potentially harmful bacteria on beef and that lactic acid itself poses no threat to human health," she said. "We urge the European Commission to move forward promptly on drafting a measure, consistent with the conclusions of the EU's own scientists, to approve the use of lactic acid as a PRT, and we urge the EU member states to approve the measure."


In August 2012, the United States and the EU will begin the second phase of an agreement reached in 2009 that prescribes Washington's gradual ease of sanctions on EU imports in exchange for the EU's expansion of access to US beef exports, ultimately to a tariff-rate quota of 45,000 tonnes at zero duty. The agreement, however, only applies to US beef produced without growth-promoting hormones, a position on which the EU likely won't budge.


Joe Schuele, spokesman for the US Meat Export Federation, said that while the EU's approval of lactic acid would not impact the quota, it will allow more US processors to participate in exporting beef to Europe.


"Unless you're doing large volumes to the EU, it's not cost effective to make those production changes to fill partial orders," he said. "If [lactic acid were] approved, not only would it improve product safety, but it would also allow a lot more plants to participate. And it will become a big issue if we're able to secure a larger quota."

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