MEPs: Safety, ethics outweigh innovation on novel foods

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The main focus of Commission proposals to revise the bloc’s market approval process for novel foods is wrong as the plans put more emphasis on innovation and simplified market access than consumer protection, MEPs argued in a debate on 14 July.

The focus of the new regulation must be on safety and health of consumers, animals and the environment, states the Parliament’s first draft report on the proposed regulation, presented and debated in the House’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee on 14 July 2008. 

“All other objectives are of secondary importance,” adds the report drafted by MEP Kartika Tamara Liotard (GUE/NGL, NL). Other objectives put forward by the EU executive in its proposal are namely securing the functioning of the internal market for food and supporting innovation in and competitiveness of the EU agri-food industry.

The draft report also argues that the authorisation of novel foods must be done in respect of the precautionary principle “at all times”. 

The rapporteur notably suggests that the EU Novel Foods Regulation be based on the one currently in force for genetically modified food and feed, “which was carefully drafted with a view to consumer protection and environmental protection”. The Commission proposed it to be based on the Regulation establishing a common authorisation procedure for food additives, food enzymes and flavourings, which has not yet been adopted.

The report insists that ethical aspects be taken account when authorising these new types of food, which range from cloned meat to products manufactured using nanotechnology.

Regarding the ethical and environmental aspects, the rapporteur states that they must be considered as part of the risk assessment during the authorisation procedure and “be assessed by the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies [EGE] and the European Environment Agency [EEA] respectively”.

The rapporteur also underlines that member states must have the right to object to the placing on the market of a product on ethical grounds even if no reasoned scientific safety objections exist on a product’s adverse health effects, for example. “Even if a product is safe, there may be ethical objections,” and society may regard a novel food as “inedible on ethical grounds,” notes the report.

But such clauses are unlikely to win the backing of the EU executive as they would contravene international trade rules. EU GMO rules have already come under attack in the WTO (see EURACTIV 12/05/06).

The EU's current Novel Foods Regulation dates back to May 1997 and does not cover innovative foods developed since then, nor foods that are consumed in large quantities outside the EU although not traditionally consumed in Europe. Following a stakeholder consultation on the regulation in 2002, the Commission adopted a legislative proposal to amend the current novel foods regulation in January 2008. 

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 regulation would namely create a centralised authorisation system to 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 of a novel food application and, if judged safe, the Commission would then propose its authorisation.

  • 8 Oct. 2008: Deadline for Environment Committee's MEPs to propose amendments to the draft report.
  • 4 Nov.2008: Committee debate on the amendments. 
  • 2 Dec. 2008: Committee vote on the report. 
  • 13 Jan. 2009: Parliament's first plenary reading scheduled.

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