The Commission has proposed speeding up market authorisation for foods ranging from cloned meat to exotic products from third countries. But the proposed centralised authorisation system is raising questions at a time when the safety of GMOs is back under the spotlight.

The Commission adopted, on 14 January 2008, its proposal to amend the current novel foods regulation. The aim, according to the EU executive, is to allow "for safe and innovative foods to reach the EU market faster" and encourage the development of "new types of foods and food production techniques".

The novel foods covered by the revised regulation would include "foods derived from plants and animals, produced by non-traditional breeding techniques, and foods modified by new production processes, such as nanotechnology and nanoscience, which might have an impact on food", with "non-traditional breeding techniques" standing for 'cloning of animals' in this case. 

Novel food qualification covers food groups such as plant algae, fungi microorganisms and animal-derived foods, as well as food that has an altered compositional structure or contains oils and dairy products enriched with cholesterol-reducing chemicals. 

The Commission proposed the creation of a centralised authorisation system, which would simplify and speed up the process of authorisation for novel foods. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) would be responsible for carrying out the risk assessment on the novel food applications. The Commission would then propose authorisation if a food was judged safe by EFSA. 

The centralised authorisation system, which is currently applied to GM products, is contested by several member states, which criticise EFSA's GMO bias in its approval of new GMOs and would prefer their national experts to have more say on the matter. Presenting the novel foods proposal and answering journalists' questions, a Commission spokeswoman admitted that "the timing of the proposal was not perfect".  

Regarding traditional food from third countries, which have no history of consumption in the EU, "a more proportional safety assessment and management for food with a history of safe food use" is proposed. This means that if a history of safe use of the food in a third country can be demonstrated, and there are no objections from member states or EFSA, the food will be allowed to be placed on the market on the basis of a notification from the third country operator. 

The proposal also sets out data protection rules to allow companies to benefit from newly developed scientific evidence and proprietary data once authorised. A five-year market authorisation exclusivity on new types of foods and food production techniques is proposed to encourage innovation.