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EU ban on smoky flavourings for ham and crisps will cause ‘major economic harm’

Food company Kerry Group warned former taoiseach about potential impact on Irish industry, lobbying correspondence shows

The Tralee-based company claims the changes will impact well over €30 billion worth of food products across the EU

The Government was urged to intervene in a move by the European Commission to phase out current methods of adding smoke flavouring to ham, rashers and smoky bacon crisps.

Irish company Kerry Group privately warned that an EU decision would cause “major economic harm” to the Irish food sector. In a January 30th letter to then taoiseach Leo Varadkar, seen by The Irish Times, the company said it was “profoundly concerned” at the proposed changes.

The commission, the arm of the EU that proposes laws, had pushed to stop renewing permission for various smoke flavourings for meats and other food, such as sauces and crisps. The move was taken after the EU food safety authority concluded toxicity concerns about the flavourings were “either confirmed or can’t be ruled out”.

In the correspondence to Mr Varadkar, Edmond Scanlon, chief executive of Kerry Group, said it estimated up to 40 per cent of the ham and bacon sold in Ireland depended on the flavouring method. The Tralee-based company, one of the big players in the smoked flavouring market, claimed the changes “would impact well over €30 billion worth of food products across the EU”.


The current process involves food producers purifying smoke and removing harmful components such as tar and ash, before the flavouring was added to food, Mr Scanlon wrote. Irish producers further down the supply chain had invested in factory equipment to add the flavourings to food, he said. The letter, released under the Freedom of Information Act, said the current method was more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than “conventional smoking” of foods.

Previous EU authorisation for the smoke flavourings had been rolled over for a 10-year period, which is due to expire. The commission last week announced the planned withdrawal of authorisation for eight types of smoky flavourings from the European market would be going ahead. The decision was taken following a vote at a food safety committee that included representatives from all EU countries, a commission spokesman said. Ireland voted in favour of the proposal not to renew the authorisation.

Producers will have two years to phase out the current method for adding smoky flavouring to crisps, sauces, soups or snacks, with a five-year window to stop using the method for flavouring ham, fish and cheese. The lead-in period would give the food industry time “to adapt to the new rules”, the commission said.

Kerry Group also sought to raise the issue with senior staff working for Mairead McGuinness, Ireland’s EU commissioner for financial services. Patricia Reilly, head of the commissioner’s cabinet, met representatives of the company in Brussels in January, according to lobbying logs. Following the meeting Ms Reilly passed on the company’s concerns to her counterpart in the office of Stella Kyriakides, EU commissioner for food safety.

Separately, Peter Kullgren, the Swedish minister for rural affairs, wrote to Ms Kyriakides, stating his government had “deep concerns” about the plans. The January 24th letter said the decision would have a “substantial impact” on food producers, who he said would need “at least” between five and 10 years to refit factories.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times