Commission sent back to drawing board on novel foods law


Food from cloned animals comes under the EU's Novel Foods regulation [Shutterstock]

The European Parliament’s environment committee voted on Monday (24 November) to revise EU rules on novel foods, backing a precautionary approach to new techniques like nanoparticles.

Meeting in Strasbourg, the committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) voted to pass a draft report on the European Commission’s proposed Novel Foods regulation, which aims to centralise authorisation of novel foods.

Novel foods are defined as those using nanomaterials, the cloning of animals for food production as well as traditional foods from third countries.

Precautionary principle upheld

The MEPs voted among other things to back the European Food Safety Agency’s (EFSA) definition of ‘nanomaterial’, with a 10% nanoparticle threshold for an ingredient to qualify as ‘nano’. 

They also stressed the importance of the “precautionary principle” whereby foods must proven safe before they can be authorised for consumption on the EU market. As for for traditional food imported from third countries, legislators called for clear guidance from EFSA on the data needed to prove a “history of safe use”.

Bart Staes, a Belgian MEP who is the Green’s food safety spokesperson, said he was satisfied with the outcome of the vote. “Parliament has today sent strong signals on how the EU and its institutions should deal with novel foods. There are legitimate concerns about the impacts of these new types of foods – whether on human health, the environment or animal welfare – and it behoves the EU institutions to act responsibly and apply the precautionary principle, rather than rushing gung-ho ahead with new foods,” Staes said.

“MEPs have voted to send the Commission back to the drawing board with its flawed proposals on food from clones. There are real concerns with clone food, whether as regards about the impact on genetic diversity or animal welfare and it is grossly irresponsible to just ignore these,” Staes continued.

The EU regulation on novel foods, which dates back to 1997, is up for a review again, after a last-chance conciliation in March 2011 failed to reach agreement on the use of cloned animals’ offspring for food production.

>> Read: Novel foods review stumbles over cloning

While the two institutions agreed to ban the use of cloning in animal reproduction for food production, and to ban comestible products from cloned animals altogether, they clashed on allowing onto the EU market food obtained from clones’ offspring.

“We are thrilled consumer protection was put at the forefront in assessing novel foods. It is a wise move to say nano should not be used in food until its safety risks can be fully assessed,” said Camille Perrin, senior food policy officer at the European Consumer Organisation’s (BEUC).

“This time last year, we were dismayed by the Commission’s proposal on food from animal clones. It denied consumers the right to know what they purchase and eat by withholding labelling requirements for food from clones’ descendants. This is despite 83% of consumers wanting such labelling if on EU supermarket shelves. Our concerns have been reflected by MEPs who are calling on the Commission to go back to the drawing board. We expect a revamped cloning proposal, this time in line with consumers’ expectations,” Perrin said.

Food & Water Europe's EU Food Policy Advisor Eve Mitchell commented:

“Thank goodness MEPs are standing up once again for the Precautionary Principle and basic food safety, this time on nanotechnology and clones. Working through the hundreds of amendments tabled is not easy, but it is incredibly important to get this right. This ‘safety first’ approach has not been matched elsewhere in the European machinery, and we all need to support the MEPs fighting our corner – the pressure will only grow to ‘compromise’. When there is such widespread admission that our knowledge on these issues so sparse, and when the risks are so grave, compromise simply is not an option."

An EU proposal for a regulation on novel foods was rejected in 2011 over concerns related to animal cloning.

>> Read: Novel foods review stumbles over cloning

The discussions mainly focused on the provisions applicable to nanomaterials, the cloning of animals for food production, traditional foods from third countries, the criteria to be examined for the risk assessment and risk management, and to the procedure for the authorisation of novel foods.

A new proposal was tabled in December 2013, which is limited to the safety of novel foods and is based on the overall agreement achieved in so-called "conciliation" talks between the EU three lawmaking bodies - the European Commission, Parliament and Council.

The general criteria for novel food definition remain unchanged: novel foods are foods and food ingredients which were not consumed in the EU to a significant degree before the entry into force (15 May 1997) of the current Novel Food Regulation.

  • 2016: The earliest year a new draft legislation can enter into force.

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