The European Parliament narrowly defeated a proposed ban on an additive that is considered to be key in industrial meats used to make doner kebabs.
The vote needed an absolute majority of at least 376 votes for a ban on phosphates, but the legislature fell just three votes short. The vote was 373-272 with 30 abstentions.
"We saved your kebab. You're welcome," said the Christian Democrat European People's Party Group, which had argued for keeping the phosphates in since it claims there is no proof of negative health effects.
Some EU lawmakers had cited health concerns based on studies that linked the phosphates used in the giant slabs of frozen meat to cardiovascular disease.
The Socialists and Greens had led the arguments for the ban on health grounds.
"This is a sad day for consumer rights, which have been trampled on," said Greens EU legislator Bart Staes.
There is currently no blanket regulation on the use of doner kebab meat with added phosphates across the EU — each country has its own rules and regulations regarding the issue.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) told DW it is currently re-assessing phosphate as part of a wider study of the safety of all food additives authorized for use in the EU prior to January 20, 2009. The study is set to be completed by 2020 and the EFSA hopes to have phosphate opinion published in the second half of 2018.
In Germany, both fresh and frozen kebab meat — known in the country as a döner — with added phosphates are allowed.
According to the daily Frankfurter Rundschau there are about 16,000 döner restaurants in Germany and 3 million of the dishes are made each day. Tens of thousands of people are employed in the multi-billion-euro industry across the EU.
Ban a 'death sentence' for kebab industry
Restaurant and takeout owners had claimed that the additives were needed to keep seasoned kebab meat juicy and flavorful during transport and on the vertical rotisseries where it is cooked.
Further fueling the furor was the fact that some sausages containing phosphates are allowed to be sold in EU countries and would not have been affected by a ban on kebab meat with added phosphates.
"If the European Parliament gets its way, this would be the death sentence for the entire döner kebab industry in the European Union," Kenan Koyuncu of the German Association of Döner Kebab Producers had told Germany's daily Bild newspaper.
The kebab issue first came up when the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, proposed to authorize the use of phosphates in the lamb, mutton, beef or veal that goes onto a shop spit. Some other meats had previously received such clearance.
The proposal ran into trouble in the European Parliament in November when its Health Committee voted 32-22 to oppose it. Based on more recent health studies, legislators expressed concern that blanket approval for kebab meat could put Europeans at greater risk of heart disease.
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law/sms (AP, dpa)