Is the EU banning Kebabs?

, by Clément Di Roma

Is the EU banning Kebabs?
A kebab street in Lyon, France. Creative Commons at

News outlets have been going on about the “end of kebabs” lately. This September, twenty-four European states supported a ban of phosphate, a food additive used in döners.

“Nothing is happening and no döner kebab is in danger, so naturally no jobs are in danger either”, explained Susanne Melior, a member of the European Committee on Food Safety. Last week, a majority of the European Health Committee objected to a proposal allowing the use of phosphoric acid on frozen products. Often used in döner kebab meat, there would be a risk that the additive is increasing cardiovascular accidents.

Mixed opinions about additives

A 2012 study found that phosphate is closely linked to heart diseases. Concerns are raised, but nothing has been decided yet. Published in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International - a trusted German science journal - the study was conducted by doctors and researchers. They warned that “phosphate additives in food are a matter of concern, and their potential impact on health may well have been underappreciated”.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), however, went against this claim, saying that it was not possible at the time to attribute any health risk to phosphate. This European agency, located in Parma, Italy, is in charge of providing scientific analyses on food chain risks. Recently, this safety authority made the news about its 2015 claim that glyphosate use - a popular and controversial herbicide commercialized by Monsanto - was “not likely to cause cancer in humans”.

Earlier this year, during the debate about the renewal of Monsanto’s license - an already controversial multinational - it was revealed that the EFSA copied pages from a study directed by the firm. Their opposition to serious studies conducted on the dangers posed by glyphosate was at the center of the dispute between European states about renewing the product. Since then, the scientific credibility of the EFSA is questioned and could tremendously affect the debate around phosphate and the “kebab ban”.

Phosphate additives and where you can find them

Also called phosphorus additives, those are not only pointed out in European debates. Fast food chains have been using them for a long time to improve the taste and general aspect of baked goods, cereals, cheeses.

Phosphorus is a mineral that we need in our diets, as pointed out by Christy Brissette, a dietitian, for The Washington Post. There is, however, a risk when too much is absorbed. “High-normal levels of phosphate in the blood are linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and hardening of the arteries in the heart, even in healthy young men,” observes Mrs. Brissette.

Citizens of the European Union have the right to be worried about their health. The use of phosphate could be regulated. Researchers have been sounding the alarm for 5 years and the European Health Committee had a duty to look into this problem. But public opinion, if misinformed about a potential kebab “ban”, can form an unfortunate pressure on the debate.

Germans are worried about losing their döners

“Let us be clear. The EU is not banning ‘kebab’, our role is to ensure that food is safe”, a Commission spokesperson told New Europe. But the kebab fans, especially the ones in Germany, wouldn’t wait and check if the threat was true.

On social media and in Berlin, a capital who claims to have invented döner kebab in the 1970s, citizens were worried and the word spread quickly. Bild, a famous German tabloid, said the döners were “threatened” by the European Commission and the Health Committee, even though those organisations simply objected to an - allegedly - unsafe proposal. The concerns became so strong that the German MEP - Member of the European Parliament - Susanne Melior had to declare that the “panic” around a potential kebab ban was unjustified.

The safety of the additives is to be evaluated by the end of next year. Until then, your favorite Döners are safe.

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