OTA is a mycotoxin produced by several fungal species of the genera Penicillium and Aspergillus. Animal studies have linked the toxin to renal tumors at high dosages.
The European Commission, prompted by a letter from law firm Philippe and Partners, requested that EFSA assess new information on the toxicity of OTA and, if necessary, to update its opinion on the contaminant, which was adopted in 2006 by EFSA’s Scientific Panel on the Contaminants in the Food Chain (Contam).
The law firm maintained that the conclusions of the opinion of the Contam panel, on which EU legislation on the toxin is based, are contradicted by recent scientific publications.
EFSA derived a tolerable weekly intake (TWI) of 120 mg/kg body weight for OTA four years ago, in relation to the risk for consumers associated with the dietary exposure to the mycotoxin.
Regulation (EC) 1881/2006 then imposed maximum levels for the toxin in a range of foodstuffs such as dried fruit other than dried vine fruit, cocoa and cocoa products, spices, meat products, green coffee, beer as well as liquorice.
According to the EFSA statement, five papers on OTA toxicity, most of which were from one research group, were published subsequent to the issuing of its opinion and these were submitted to the Commission.
Two of the studies looked at co-exposure to OTA and the carcinogen aristolochic acid in certain populations, while another detailed a new method of analysis for multiple mycotoxins including data from breakfast cereals in the French market, stated the Panel.
But EFSA concluded, following Contam’s review of the publications, that “the nature of the information provided by these papers was not relevant to the overall assessment of the risks related to food contamination with ochratoxin A and as a consequence neither contradicts nor changes the conclusions drawn in EFSA’s opinion.”
And the EU safety agency said that any update of the EFSA opinion on OTA, on the basis of the submitted papers, is therefore not necessary.
Meanwhile, EC regulation imposing 80 ppb max levels for OTA in pure and undiluted liquorice extracts (obtained whereby 1kg of extract is obtained from 3 to 4 kg liquorice root) was adopted in February 2010, and it set to enter into force next month.
OTA can develop in the liquorice root and, as it is a mould, will grow where there is moisture. The new regulation will require producers to dry root more intensively so that moisture evaporates effectively and quickly.