EU unblocks novel foods entry into European market

Snail shell snacks [Adam Foster/Flickr]

EU Agriculture Ministers and the European Parliament put an end on Monday (16 November) to an eight-year-long deadlock on novel foods, adopting a new regulation that is expected to help the innovation-driven products enter the EU market.

On 28 October, the European Parliament approved a revised text on the novel foods regulation, triggering a strong reaction from the European Greens, which said that European citizens’ concerns about cloning were being ignored.

>>Read: Parliament vote on novel foods heats up cloned animals debate

The vote, however, was welcomed by the EU food industry.

“It is of crucial importance to Europe’s food and drink industry, given its potential to stimulate innovation and, therefore, respond to consumer demands by providing them with safe, sound, sustainable and affordable choices,” FoodDrinkEurope told EURACTIV.

The revised rules provide a single authorisation procedure for the EU, with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) taking overall responsibility for assessing new food’s potential effects on human health.

The current average approval time for novel foods is 35 months, but the new, centralised, approach will significantly reduce this time to 18-24 months.

Commission satisfied

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, welcomed the political agreement, saying that it will boost innovation in the EU market.

“This agreement brings us closer to a more effective regulatory environment that will allow businesses to bring innovative food to market, whilst ensuring the highest possible levels of food safety for European consumers,” he stressed, adding that European citizens will also be able to enjoy a broader choice of food.

“Europe’s agri-food industry – the second largest employment sector in Europe – will benefit from innovation and will contribute to the creation of more jobs and growth,” Andriukaitis emphasised.

Novel foods are defined in Europe as food that has not been consumed to a significant degree prior to 1997, the year when the first regulation on novel foods came into force.

The products can be newly developed, innovative food, or food produced using new technologies and production processes, as well as food traditionally eaten outside of the EU. It can also be food with an intentionally modified primary molecular structure, food from micro-organisms, fungi and algae, insects, plants, cellular or tissue cultures, and engineered nanomaterials.

In May , the European Parliament presented its “final offer” on the proposed regulation. MEPs wanted to safeguard the Parliament’s right to scrutinise the EU list of novel foods, which the European Commission will draw up at a later stage. They also wanted the text about cloning clarified.

>>Read: Parliament makes ‘final offer’ on novel foods, cloning

"It's a good day for us who believe in innovation and choose not to be afraid of everything that is new,” ALDE MEP Jasenko Selimovic said.

"Overall, we managed to negotiate a very good compromise that includes sensible measures for all concerns raised by the Parliament. It will ensure that we allow for innovation in the sector to continue while having clear and stringent rules that safeguard the rights of citizens to safe food and sufficient information about what they are being offered,” he added.

“European citizens’ concerns were ignored,” MEP Michèle Rivasi (Europe Écologie) told EURACTIV following the EU Parliament’s vote last month (28 October).

“The Parliament gave a blank check to the Commission, which will be the only institution to allow 'novel foods' on the market without any possibility for the MEPs to veto such decisions,” she noted.

An EU proposal for a regulation on novel foods was rejected in 2011 over concerns related to animal 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 the procedure for the authorisation of novel foods.

>>Read: Novel foods review stumbles over cloning

A new proposal was tabled in December 2013, which is limited to the safety of novel foods.

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.

In December 2013, the executive also announced a proposal on the cloning of animals of the bovine, porcine, ovine, caprine and equine species kept and reproduced for farming purpose and a proposal on the placing on the market of food from animal clones.

In September 2015, the European Parliament went further to ban all food products from clones and their descendants.

In 2008, 2009 and 2010 the European Food Safety Authority issued three opinions saying that there was no indication that differences exist in terms of food safety for meat and milk of clones and their progeny compared with those from conventionally bred animals. The decisions were based on the assumption that meat and milk are derived from healthy animals which are subject to relevant food safety controls.

  • 8 December 2015: Publication of the novel foods regulation in the EU Journal

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