Chris Whitehouse, chairman of Whitehouse Consulting, said firms submitting novel food applications to the FSA were being told to go elsewhere.
Novel food hopefuls have been rebuffed with the an automatic email stating: “If your enquiry relates to submitting a novel food dossier, please note that due to current limited resources, the UK is unable to accept any new novel food dossiers for assessment, until further notice. Therefore, if you are interested in submitting a novel food dossier to the EU, we advise you to contact another EU member state, further details can be obtained from the European Commission.”
Whitehouse told us this could be a result of job losses and resource cut backs amid current public-sector austerity measures in the UK. He added the authority was under particular strain because of its global reputation for fairness and a “science based” system, which has led many international companies to direct applications to the member state.
Companies wishing to market food or ingredients that do not have a demonstrable history of consumption within the European Union before 15 May 1997 must apply to a member state authority for novel food approval.
Return to sender
“People tend to think they’ll get a fair deal if they come to the UK,” Whitehouse said. Adding that in recent years this opinion had led to a flurry of international firms applying for approval through the agency. Companies must have a foot in a country to do this, he said, but this was a “very easy hurdle to jump”.
“Basically if you’ve got a few bob you can establish a base in a member state.”
He said in light of this redirection firms were likely to seek advice from the Commission as a first port of call. While he said his advice beyond this would depend on the food or ingredient in question, with some countries proving more lenient towards certain sectors than others. "Personally I wouldn't say: 'Right your next best bet is Germany or France', for example."
He said this shut down was “alarming”, adding: “This is the first time ever in my 30 years of working in public policy that a government agency has stated: ‘We can’t cope’.”
New system motivation?
He said this pressure was “no doubt” the reason behind the EU’s proposal for a new novel food application process.
The new system could see the 28 member states stripped of their assessment responsibilities and replaced by a centralised EU procedure.
“This is the nature of beast, when you’re trying to herd 28 cats,” he said.
He said it was no longer possible to “sweep the issue under the carpet” and added that he was hopeful for the new system, though it may take time to be come through by Brussels standards.
In the meantime, he said FSA’s cut off was “an appalling development” that was bad for British business.
He said that the UK’s reputation within regulation meant companies such as his were often asked to provide consultation for foreign firms.
“We export expertise.We sell our services. That’s why it’s so alarming,” he said.
FSA was unable to provide further details on whether this was a temporary freeze since today is a public holiday in the UK.