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.
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.