Novel foods relaxation would boost trade
regulation for foods with a safe history in other parts of the
world is eagerly anticipated by industry experts, who believe it
will have a positive effect on EU trade and innovation.
Europe's novel foods regulation (EC No 258/97) was introduced in 1997 and requires that any food not commonly consumed in the European Union prior to May 1997 be subject to rigorous safety assessment before it can be brought to market. At present this requirement is applicable even for traditional food for which there is information on safe use outside the EU. "This is perceived, especially by third countries, as an unjustified barrier to trade for their traditional foods," a spokesperson for health at the European Commission told FoodNavigator.com. "The EC has identified this issue to be an important one to resolve." She added that an impact assessment conducted last year showed that safety assessment and management could be better tailored to different types of foods, allowing foods with data of safe food use outside the EU to enter the EU more easily. A legal draft proposal is currently being prepared and is expected to be presented to the European Parliament and Commission for co-decision in the autumn. Brussels-based consultancy European Advisory Services (EAS) has welcomed the news that change could be on the way. Scientific and regulatory affairs manager Efi Leontopoulou said that there are a number of innovative and interesting ingredients from outside the EU, and if their safe history of use is taken into account this "will have a great impact". "Not only will this drive innovation, it will also be a good basis for competition in the food sector". The problem over foods with a safe history of use in non-EU countries was illustrated recently in the case of goji berries, which have started to appear in products in the UK but for which the novel foods status is unclear. The UK's Food Standards Agency wrote to retailers, health food companies and other stakeholders in February to request evidence of whether goji berries were consumed in substantial quantities in the European Union before May 1997. Last week, however, it issued its verdict that the berries are not a novel food - giving the greenlight for market development for the so-called superfruit. Miguel Fernandes da Silva, advisor with EAS, gave more details on the expected revision, which would also aim to set up a centralized assessment procedure. At present assessment can be carried out by any member state. He said that the commission may look to establish four lists in the context of novel foods: a list of novel foods; a list of non-novel foods; a list of foods under question; and a food supplement list. At the moment it is somewhat confusing that a distinction is drawn between different food categories, particularly when an ingredient can be used in supplements but not other foods or vice versa. The commission is also expected to publish the informal 'novel foods catalogue' that has been circulating among Member States more than five years. While it is conceivable that the changes could meet with objections from the consumer protection lobby, da Silva stressed that all substances will still be reviewed in risk assessments. "The entire procedure recognises that," he said. Since the revision will be brought about through co-decision, da Silva expects it will be at least a year before it comes into force - and possibly as long as two.