Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Alko is a limited company owned by the Finnish Government, and acting as the national alcoholic beverage retailing monopoly in Finland. Going through the single malt Scotch whiskies listed in Alko’s catalogue, I had noticed some time ago that somewhere along the line, the ‘E150a’ markings had mysteriously disappeared. When had this happened? Closer inspection in personal archives soon revealed that the vanishing had occurred already towards the end of 2011. The 7 June – 2 October catalogue still contained information on the caramel colouring of whiskies, but from the next one (3 October 2011 – 31 January 2012), the markings were gone. The natural follow-up question was: Why had such a deletion taken place?

The Alcohol Control Laboratory (ACL), which is part of Alko’s organisation and responsible for testing the quality of alcoholic beverages, told that this was based on Alko’s own decision. There were various reasons for the ruling. Some producers claim to be using the colouring only for the purpose of retaining consistency between batches, which would mean that E150a would not always be needed. Also earlier, the ‘E’ markings were only to be found on more recently introduced products, while the older ones remained unmarked. This constituted an obvious breach of impartiality. Moreover, although the EU regulations do require the labelling of potentially harmful allergens, E150a is not classified among them.

However, probably the most important reason given by the ACL was that it turned out to be practically impossible to maintain a reliable record of the use of E150a, because its chemical analysis proved too challenging under prevailing conditions. The liquid chromatography method used by the laboratory could not reliably detect the presence of E150a, and since the colouring itself is quite harmless, the decision was made to remove the markings altogether. The director of the laboratory suggested that the situation would be altered, if a reliable method of analysis could be found.

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