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US could impose 100 percent tariff on French wines and other goods

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The US government said in December 2019 that it may implement duties of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion in imports from France of Champagne, handbags, cheese and other products over the digital services tax, which it concluded would harm US tech companies.

According to Reuters, buyers and drinkers of Champagne, and other French sparkling wines, should prepare for cost increases if the US follows through on its threat to impose 100 percent tariffs on French goods.

The US is said to be the largest foreign market for French wine, importing nearly €700 million of French sparkling wine per year, according to the Fédération des Exportateurs de Vins & Spiritueux de France (FEVS) trade group, and so industry experts have reportedly warned of the damage the tariff could do to the economy, similar to the effects seen after the American Prohibition. 

The Trump administration already imposed 25 percent tariffs on many non-sparkling European wines in October 2019 in a dispute with the EU over aircraft subsidies, and it is separately reviewing whether to increase those duties and expand the list of products affected, Reuters reported.

While the industry is thought to have largely absorbed the cost of the 25 percent tariffs, it will not be able to do the same with 100 percent tariffs, industry executives have reportedly said.

Robert Tobiassen, President of the National Association of Beverage Importers, said there was little hope of averting these higher tariffs. “I believe the existing tariffs will continue and there is a very strong likelihood that other tariffs will come on,” he said.



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DG Sante questions effectiveness of Poland’s microbial control system

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The effectiveness of a control system for food of non-animal origin in Poland, which verifies that microbiological risks are detected and reduced, has been questioned in an audit report.

The assessment by DG Sante, the European Commission’s unit for food safety and health, covered microbial safety of food of non-animal origin (FNAO). It found authorities do not know the amount of unregistered primary producers and inadequate controls at processing plants impacts enforcement as non-compliances were rarely detected.

An audit from late June to early July 2019 included three frozen green vegetables and soft fruit processors, one farm handling green leafy vegetables, and three producing red and black currants. The National Reference Laboratory for foodborne viruses in food of non-animal origin and one regional lab for microbiology were visited.

The visit reviewed the official controls for food hygiene to prevent microbiological contamination in FNAO, including seeds intended for sprouting and sprouts. It looked at planning and implementation of official checks, control procedures and sampling performance.

A previous audit in 2016 raised issues such as performance of official controls and lab testing, notably reliability of results. Recommendations made at that time on low control frequencies, their inconsistent application, and incomplete registration of primary producers had still not been addressed in the 2019 audit.

Primary producer problem
Primary producers of FNAO must by law apply for a registration but authorities are aware not all such producers are registered. The number of registrations increased from about 57,000 in 2016 to 85,000 in 2019; 43,000 of these were producers of FNAO intended to be eaten raw. Official controls of primary producers from 2016 to 2018 revealed only one non-compliant sample because of Salmonella.

A factory processing and freezing vegetables and soft fruit in one district was involved in several RASFF alerts, the last one in 2018 for norovirus in frozen red currants. Overall, 23 primary producers had been identified as suppliers for this consignment but none were registered at the time of the RASFF notification. This sites supplier list for 2019 still contained unregistered primary producers of soft fruit.

Auditors found that during investigations of RASFF alerts, in most cases no official samples were taken to confirm the results of checks by operators.

Controls should take place once per year if the operator is in the high risk category, once every 18 months for medium risk sites and once every 66 months for low risk plants. In 2018, out of 85,000 primary producers of FNAO below 3,000 were inspected and 75 found to be non-compliant.

The audit team found that in the region responsible for the most registered primary producers of soft fruit and ready-to eat vegetables, the number has risen from 8,658 in 2016 to 13,563 in 2018. However, inspections decreased from 543 to 452 during this period.

DG Sante said the primary producer risk assessment system lacks efficiency because of the shortage of key parameters at registration, such as crop surface and production volumes, and does not allow limited resources to be directed to the riskiest primary producers.

There are 283 FNAO freezing processors approved in Poland and 512 inspections were carried out in 2018. Data from official controls of freezer and processing establishments shows there were no non-compliant samples from 2016 to 2018.

In one of three freezing factories visited, the audit team noticed several non-compliances. Authorities issued an administrative decision and production was temporarily halted. An action plan was put in place to correct the shortcomings.

Knock on impact
The audit team was shown staff training files but instruction on the risks caused by Listeria monocytogenes in FNAO production were not included. Environmental swabs to detect the pathogen were only taken correctly in one of three processors visited, and responsible officials were not aware of the correct procedures to take these samples.

This has a negative impact on effectiveness of official controls aimed at verifying potential microbiological risks are adequately detected and reduced to an acceptable level by food businesses, according to DG Sante.

Because of shortages in resources the official control frequencies for primary production could not be fully implemented. This was caused by the increasing workload and rise of registered primary producers without more staff, according to the report.

In the processing plants visited, planned frequencies were met or surpassed. However, the inspectors doing official controls of FNAO processors have a low number of inspections per year, which makes it difficult for them to gain and maintain a sufficient level of expertise.

Due to this, official controls cannot always be implemented effectively, resulting in inadequate checks at some processors. This impacts enforcement, as non-compliances were rarely detected.

At the time of the audit, the National Reference Laboratory for foodborne viruses was recently nominated in this role and had not started work because of a lack of budget. The audit found cooling capacities for samples in both labs was limited and if there was a foodborne outbreak they would probably not be able to handle and store the high amount of samples necessary.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)



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Namkeen Daliya | Healthy food for kids | Quick Dinner recipe

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Ingredion to acquire controlling stake in PureCircle

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Dive Brief:

  • Ingredion agreed to purchase a 75% controlling stake in stevia pioneer PureCircle, the companies announced Thursday. Terms of the deal, which is slated to close in the second half of the year, were not disclosed.
  • Both companies’ boards have already signed off on the deal. PureCircle, which is traded on the London Stock Exchange, will need to have its shareholders’ approval the purchase.
  • “PureCircle is a widely recognized innovator with a proven track record for producing great-tasting, plant-based stevia,” Ingredion President and CEO Jim Zallie said in a release announcing the agreement. “Ingredion’s successful and global go-to-market model combined with our formulation expertise will be highly complementary with PureCircle’s capabilities.”

Dive Insight:

If it is approved by shareholders, this deal has the potential to solve issues each of these individual companies face.

Even though its knowledge and leadership in the stevia market is vast, PureCircle is in deep financial trouble. And even though Ingredion offers more than 1,000 ingredients to food and beverage companies worldwide, it doesn’t have stevia brands of its own. This deal would preserve PureCircle’s industry knowledge and leadership, as well as give Ingredion a large presence in one of the hottest sugar replacement ingredients. Ingredion has identified sugar reduction and specialty sweeteners as one of its core growth areas.

The last several years have been very good for PureCircle when it comes to business and innovation. PureCircle received a patent to use the more sugar-like glycoside Rebaudioside M in beverages in 2015. In 2017, it developed the StarLeaf variety, which has 20% more Reb M and desirable Reb D than regular stevia plants.

A year later, PureCircle​ developed a method to convert the more abundant Reb A, which has a somewhat bitter aftertaste, into Reb D and Reb M. In December 2019, PureCircle launched its new Sigma Syrup, a concentrated Reb M blend designed to overcome common solubility challenges.

But there has been less positive news from PureCircle in the recent past, too. In much-delayed year-end 2019 financials filed last week, the company posted a $79.7 million loss. The loss resulted from deep and long-lasting accounting issues the company discovered in September. It prompted a private audit from KPMG, as well as the ouster of the company’s founding CEO, its CFO and many members of the board.

Although PureCircle’s financial issues seem to have been worked out and the company’s books are unlikely to reflect this kind of big drop again, the stevia maker had to raise a lot of cash in order to keep going. PureCircle received a waiver of all previous defaults, bringing in an additional $8.6 million in liquidity through an unsecured subordinate loan from shareholders.

Last week’s financial report mentioned several avenues the company was investigating in order to keep going. They included finding investors, refinancing existing debt or selling its refineries to a third party and leasing them back. 

This option works well for PureCircle, given Ingredion’s global leadership in many areas of the ingredients market. But it also benefits Ingredion, which has a reputation for acquiring smaller companies that can bring new expertise to the fold. In order to build its texturizing business, for example, Ingredion acquired rice ingredient company Sun Flour and TIC Gums. The company has not made any large acquisitions in the last few years, but its presence in stevia currently is mostly through distribution agreements with producer SweeGen.

According to Ingredion’s 2019 annual report, sugar reduction made up 36% of the company’s net sales last year, mostly through polyols including erythritol, and rare sugars including allulose. The acquisition of PureCircle will help that sales proposition grow exponentially, especially since new innovations in stevia have made formulators more strongly consider using the sweetener.

Once known for having a bitter aftertaste, stevia has come far. In 2018, the number of product launches with stevia increased 31% from the year before, according to Mintel statistics assembled by PureCircle. The growth rate just a year earlier was 11%. Much of this work in improving stevia can be credited to PureCircle. If the deal goes through, Ingredion is in prime position to reap the benefits — and quickly become one of the world’s go-to stevia suppliers.



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