Give Now

Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

EU Apple Ban Drubs North American Regs

The European Union has clamped down on an anti-browning chemical, effectively banning the import of apples and pears from the U.S. and Canada.

Raindrops coating unpicked apples in an orchard

Photo: Jennifer Boyer (flickr)

Most conventionally grown U.S. apples are coated in an anti-browning chemical that exceeds new European Union limits by up to four times.

Apple A Day

Europe has shown once again that its approach to food chemicals is more restrictive than that of North America.

In the U.S. and Canada, conventionally grown apples and pears are coated with a pesticide to keep them from turning brown from “scald” and to extend shelf life. Diphenylamine, more commonly known as DPA, is not a proven health hazard, but some research points to its possible connection to carcinogens.

Last month, the European Union dramatically restricted the amount of DPA allowed on fruit imports. The average levels found on apples and pears from the U.S. is four times greater than those restrictions. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found DPA on 80 percent of U.S. apples. Those tests are performed after the apples are washed, by the way.

Food safety watchdogs want the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to “catch up” with the European Food Safety Authority and take a more cautious tack.

“We’re concerned about this as an example of a less than protective system,” said Sonya Lunder, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group.

The group’s concerns center on DPA’s potential to break down into cancer-causing nitrosamines during storage, exposure to heat, or when mixed with other agrochemicals. Nitrosamine contaminants have been found in some cooked meats and latex products, and in those cases the EPA has taken steps to limit exposure to consumers.

Apples To Oranges

The EU ban sheds light on a fundamental difference in how governments approach possible health risks from chemicals. Over the course of a few years, the E.U. body investigated DPA risks, asking companies that produce the chemical to demonstrate its safety. Ultimately, the ban went into effect because of a lack of safety data.

But the EPA currently isn’t looking further into those potential risks. Back in 1998 when the EPA first looked into DPA safety, it found an impurity in the chemical that produces nitrosamines, but determined that the risk of exposure to consumers is low.

Lunder said this case isn’t about the EPA’s failure to exhaustively check every small risk, it’s about evaluating serious hazards.

“We don’t know if nitrosamines form on apples, but if they do, it is a serious concern, because those chemicals are potent carcinogens,” she said. “I’m wary about people talking about precautions, because industry makes it sound like it’s all unicorns and butterflies, and here we’re talking about chemical structures that lead to specific concerns about substances that cause cancer.”

Small Beans For Apple Biz

The economic impact of the E.U. ban is minimal.

A Washington state government report this year estimated a loss of $5 million to $25 million in apple sales to European buyers per year. That’s just a sliver of pie compared to the industry’s $1.1 billion in annual exports overall. A more pressing question is whether the news will drive consumers away from conventionally raised fruit in the U.S.

Read More:

  • Why American Apples Just Got Banned in Europe (Mother Jones)
  • Group Asks U.S. To Examine Pesticide-Coated Apples Banned By Europe (Reuters)
  • Us Apple, Pear Exports To Europe Threatened By Chemical Ban (Food Dive)
Chad Bouchard

Chad Bouchard is a veteran reporter and WFIU alum who has covered wild and wooly beats from Indonesia to Capitol Hill. His radio work has aired on NPR, PRI and Voice of America, and his writing has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and Scientific American’s health magazine, Lives. He has also spent a lifetime gardening, foraging and eating weird stuff.

View all posts by this author »

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Earth Eats:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Earth Eats

Search Earth Eats

Earth Eats on Twitter

Earth Eats on Flickr

Harvest Public Media