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Iranian pistachio preserves its place in EU markets

Brussels, June 12, IRNA -- European Union and Iranian officials have strongly denied some media speculations on a possible European ban on Iranian pistachio imports due to aflatoxin contamination.

"There is no ban from the EU side, but there is 100 percent testing," Arancha Gonzalez, spokeswoman for trade in the European Commission, told IRNA.

She said that Iranian authorities "have not communicated to us any action plan to tackle this specific problem and, therefore, the 100 percent control at EU ports will have to remain in place."

"The controls are very strict and the control guarantees that the products that are being imported are not bad for human consumption," explained Gonzalez.

Aflatoxins are toxic metabolites produced by certain fungi in or on food and feeds and health authorities link it to liver and kidney cancers.

On May 27, a delegation comprising officials from the Iranian Ministries of Health and Agriculture accompanied by representatives from the Association of Dry Nuts Exporters and the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines held talks in Brussels with Commission officials to resolve the problem.

Currently, the EU checks all pistachio imports from Iran, but if the situation improves only random checks will be carried out by the end of the year.

In the course of talks with the European Commission's health authorities, the EU side has accepted to exempt Iranian pistachio from 100 percent testing procedure if the number of rejected consignments are decreased to a certain low level till the beginning of the year 2005 when the Commission will make a decision.

Meanwhile, the Iranian side has assured it would continue to exert utmost efforts to improve the quality of its pistachio supply based on EU food safety standards.

"Due to the intense efforts made by the Iranian pistachio producers, agriculture and health authorities and the exporter companies for improving the quality of pistachio, and considering that as of the new year pistachio production will arrive in EU markets in three to four months, a drastic change in the quality of this product can be foreseen," Mohammad Javad Rezayat, counsellor for EU affairs at the Iranian embassy in Brussels, told IRNA.

Only 16.4 percent of Iranian pistachio exports to the EU have been rejected.

The European bloc slapped its first ban on Iranian pistachio imports due to alleged high-levels of aflatoxin in September 1997.

The embargo was lifted three months later following assurances from Tehran that it would improve health safety measures and the quality of its pistachio production.

The European Commission's consumer and food safety measures on imports are becoming stricter and tighter every year for all commodities being imported to the Union from all countries, including EU member states.

The core of the pistachio dispute is based on the different acceptable levels of aflatoxin.

Whereas the International Nut Council (INC) has set 15 ppb (parts per billion) as acceptable aflatoxin levels, the Commission standards have set this level at only 4 pbb.

Last March, the Commission informed Iran that aflatoxin contamination of its pistachio shipments to Europe was increasing and urged Iran to take appropriate actions to reduce it.

Iran has recently provided the European Commission with reports on the latest measures taken to tackle the problem.

Moreover, pistachio farmers in Iran are being trained for conversion from traditional farming to modern cultivation methods with the use of latest available farming technology.

The EU has been providing Iran with technical expertise on harvesting, processing and packaging of pistachios.

Iran's efforts to resolve the problem seems to be bearing fruits. According to the latest weekly notifications on food and feed safety issued by the Commission, the number of cases related to aflatoxins in Iran's pistachio was only four cases, which is well below the number in previous weeks.

"These facts show that Iran is serious about tackling the problem," said Rezayat.

Alert notifications are sent when the food or feed presenting a risk is on the European market and when immediate action is required.

Most pistachio imports enter the EU via countries with huge port and storage facilities like Germany.

However, after the recent EU enlargement, food control laboratories with essential technical expertise were established in the 10 newly joined border countries.

Both Iranian and EU officials have dismissed media insinuation that political motives are behind the EU action against Iran's pistachio.

"I deny in strongest terms any political considerations. Public health issues are not based on any political considerations but on scientific evidence," stressed Gonzalez.

"Although the problem with the Iranian pistachio is mainly technical, a small percentage of rejected pistachio consignments should not affect the whole pistachio trade with the EU, and Iranian pistachio exporters have to know that the competition in the EU market is a reality too," underlined Rezayat.

In 2002, world production of pistachio reached 571,000 tons.

Iran, with 248,000 tons, was the top producer of the tasty nuts followed by the US with 136,000 tons.

The EU absorbs about 25 percent of Iranian pistachio exports.

However, Iran's pistachio output will decline by 150,000 tons this year compared to last year's due to the unexpected changes in ecological conditions, according to the Director General of the Pistachio Affairs Department of the Iranian Ministry of Agriculture Jihad Behrouz Gheybi.

He told IRNA in Tehran that Iran's pistachio production will not exceed 60,000 tons this year and pistachio exports will be about 50,000 tons.

... Payvand News - 6/13/04 ... --

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