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The European Union is refusing to accept apples treated with a wax containing morpholine or other amines, which means U.S. packers exporting to Europe need to switch to other types of wax or no wax at all.

The issue arose in 2010 after an independent laboratory test revealed morpholine residues of 2 parts per million on waxed apples exported from Chile to the United Kingdom, according to news reports. The European Food Safety Authority classifies morpholine as an unapproved food additive and the fruit was recalled from supermarkets.

Morpholine, an emulsifier, helps make wax glossy and is approved as a wax ingredient in other parts of the world, including the United States, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. It is what gives U.S. apples the shine they are famous for, and it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a food ingredient.

“There’s no health concern at all,” said Dr. Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs at the Northwest Horticultural Council. “It’s just a matter of cultural biases. The Europeans say, ‘Why do we need to have shiny fruit?’”

U.S. packers have the option of using a wax without morpholine, which tend to be more difficult to use and less glossy, or of not waxing the fruit, Willett said. But, less than 1 percent of Washington apples are shipped to Europe, which means it’s difficult for packers to treat those apples differently, especially as they might not know the ­destination of the fruit when they pack it.

Tolerance

Wax manufacturer Pace International has asked, unsuccessfully, for the European FSA to classify morpholine as a “processing aid,” rather than a food additive, arguing that the residues on the fruit are not actually free morpholine, but morpholine salts.

Pace has not yet filed a petition with the European Union to have morpholine approved as a food additive. Pace sales executive Greg Lyons said it’s a process that would take at least three years, with no guarantee of success.

Instead, the company is investing resources in developing non-amine coatings for apples (both carnauba and shellac based) and has requested a tolerance in the European Union for residues of morpholine that might be found on untreated fruit packed on a line where apples have previously been waxed. Working through the international law firm Keller and Heckman LLP, the company requested a tolerance of 0.5 ppm.

“There was a lot of discussion about this, and one of the things that came out was there’s no standard method for testing,” Lyons said. “Every retailer’s got their own, and they are not going to standardize it.”

He understands that the European Union is considering setting a tolerance of 0.3 ppm. Information from Pace shows that residues on treated fruit typically range from 0.5 to 2.5 ppm, with 90 percent below 1.0 ppm. Residues on fruit with cross contamination from a packing line might have residues of 0.05 to 0.35 parts per million.

Willett said low levels of morpholine are also used in the manufacture of some products used in the field, such as some pesticides and the sunscreen Raynox, so products other than wax can contribute to the residues.

A regulatory review must be conducted before a tolerance can be established, Willett said, and no one knows what the time frame is. The recent outbreak of E. coli (Escherichia coli) that killed more than 20 people and sickened more than 2,000 people in Europe appears to have interfered with the ability of the FSA to address the request, he said. However, Pace reported that the European Union did not seem to be turning away fruit with low levels of morpholine.