EU to take steps to stop tainted Ukraine sunoil

11:12, 05 May 2008
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Exact batch quantities are still unknown

European Union food safety regulators will decide what action to take to stop more contaminated Ukrainian sunflower oil entering EU countries but a formal import ban is unlikely, officials said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

A 40,000-tonne cargo of unrefined oil, shipped into France by sea, was then split into seven batches for re-export to Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, and within France. Exact batch quantities and onward shipment dates are still unknown.

It was later found to be contaminated with a low-toxic hydrocarbon-based oil and remains under analysis. EU scientists have now ruled out diesel or gasoil, saying its high viscosity made it perhaps more likely to be some kind of lubricant.

Ukrainian authorities were due to provide more information to European Commission experts by the end of Monday about the tainted cargo but had not yet done so, the officials said.

Food safety experts at the Commission -- which administers EU law and policy for the bloc`s 27 countries -- are treating the case as fraud and will meet on Wednesday to consider various options to prevent any recurrence.

"If necessary, what we can do is to adopt our own internal measures in the EU," Commission spokesman Michael Mann told a daily news briefing. The contaminated sunflower oil is not believed to pose a serious health risk if consumed.

EU authorities have asked the four countries that received batches of Ukrainian sunflower oil to trace them through food production and distribution chains, and remove them from sale.

Other Commission officials said all EU countries would probably be asked to tighten checks at ports and other entry points.

"A formal ban is a very hard measure. I would say that would not be necessary ... but we will not do nothing," one official told reporters. "The least we will do will be to ask member states to take reinforced controls."

A stricter option, which was used when unauthorised genetically modified organisms were detected in grain and rice cargoes at EU ports, would require all sunflower oil originating in Ukraine to be certified as free of mineral oil.

"We are still trying to get contact (with Ukraine)," the official said, adding that many officials were unavailable due to Ukraine`s Orthodox Easter.

"We hear rumours they have started criminal investigations but we haven`t heard anything official," he said.

Reuters

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