Consumers for Health Choice strikes out at fees-for-dossiers plan

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food industry European union

Consumers for Health Choice has called the EC consultation paper on
the payment of fees to EFSA by the food industry for the processing
of dossiers 'fundamentally flawed', and is calling for a formal
review of existing food legislation.

EFSA has been charged with reviewing dossiers that must be submitted by companies as part of several recent EU regulations, including the new health and nutrition claims regulation and the 2002 supplements directive. However since it has not received additional funding from the EU council to pay for this work, the charging of fees for dossiers has been proposed as a way to cover the shortfall. Since the funding problem was flagged early last year, Consumers for Health Choice (CHC) has taken a consistently dim view of the prospect of fee-charging on the grounds that it would be unfair to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and ultimately restrict consumer choice. In the submitted comments, it says it is alarmed that the consultation paper does not adequately reflect the scale of the costs for the food industry, particularly SMEs, and solely concentrates on the benefits of a charging system. "To that extent, we feel that the consultation paper itself is fundamentally flawed,"​ said CHC. Moreover, it says it is "regrettable" that much of the legislation was adopted prior to the better regulation agenda and without adequate impact assessments. CHC sees this oversight as the reason why the additional costs to EFSA were not identified previously. Its solution would be to repeal legislation that can be assessed against the better regulation agenda criteria on the grounds that it is disproportionate or unnecessary. Moreover, it thinks that the charging of fees could have a damaging effect on EFSA reputation. "Reliance by EFSA on fees from the food industry would lead inevitably to a perception that it was not independent and its credibility would be damaged."​ The consultation paper sets out two possible options on who should be liable for fees. Option one suggests that all applicants would be liable to pay, on the presumption that those submitting files do so only when they expect to profit economically from the authorisation. CHC does not support this option since it does not take into account the size of the submitting companies. Whereas it would be less of a big deal for large multinationals, SMEs would struggle to pay and may be compelled to withdraw their products from the market altogether. "Such an impact would seriously restrict consumer choice in specialist food product,"​ it states. Moreover, it says the economic benefit assumption is incorrect, as in many cases companies comply in order to avoid the financial threat of not submitting a file. Option two, meanwhile, suggests that only applicants with profits specifically vested in the authorisation should pay. While CHC says this is more progressive, it sees it as unworkable since it would be a very difficult distinction to draw under EC list systems, as proprietary data leads to generic benefit. The concept of 'drawing a benefit' is also seen as analogous with the benefits for the medicine industry. But medicines in many cases have a far higher safety, toxicological and clinical issues and "must not be put side-by-side with foodstuffs"​. CHC says that the only time it would be acceptable for fees to be paid to EFSA by the food industry would be for voluntary dossier submissions to gain a marketing advantage. The consultation was launched in November, and interested parties have until February 15th to submit their comments. The timing of the Consumers for Health Choice comments coincides with a two-day meeting of EFSA's advisory forum in Parma, Italy, to discuss proposed products common to the 27 EU member states. Fees for mandatory risk assessments is one of the items on the agenda.

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