The amendment to the novel foods regulation, proposed in 2008, looks likely to be scrapped as the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers as this week failed to reach an agreement on the inclusion of produce from cloned animals and their off-spring – a controversial issue that was never intended to take centre stage.
Rather, the amendment was proposed in a bid to streamline the approvals process and enable innovation to reach the market more quickly.
UK-based economist Graham Brookes, who authored a 2007 report on the impact of the current novel foods rules on innovation and competitiveness, told FoodNavigator.com that the talks breakdown is “another nail in the coffin to business’ interest in innovation in the EU”.
“They just won’t bother. They will go elsewhere,” he said, adding that there is already considerably more innovation going through in the US, Canada and Australia, as those markets “have a regulatory system that works”.
Controversy over other regulations have also stymied innovation, he said, citing health claims, GMOs and pesticide regulation as example.
In his 2007 report, co-sponsored by the CIAA and the Platform for Ingredients in Europe, Brookes found that approvals are unpredictable and often political. This means it is hard to predict when a product may come to market, making it a riskier process and adding costs. Once a product is approved, it clears the way for competitors to launch imitation products very soon afterwards, without having had to stump up their own R&D investment.
"Imitation not innovation is rewarded," he said at the time.
Throwing out the progress
According to the CIAA, the current framework creates bottlenecks to innovation, reducing investment in research and development by food and drink manufacturers and slowing novel foods from coming to market, according to the CIAA.
In a statement yesterday health and consumer policy Commissioner John Dalli drew attention to the positive aspects of the proposal and agreements achieved during the two readings, such as legal definition of nano-materials, a centralised and quicker authorisation procedure to facilitate innovation, and specific measures for traditional foods from third countries.
“If implemented this would have been beneficial for both consumers and the food industry. It is thus a great pity that we have lost the opportunity to codify these aspects already now,” said the Commissioner.
This sentiment was echoed by CIAA President Jesús Serafín Pérez, who said: “The CIAA regrets the failure to reach an agreement on the Novel Foods Regulation. It would have encouraged innovation in the food and drink industry, engendering greater consumer choice and facilitating market access for novel foods.
This impacts on Europe’s 500 million consumers and Europe’s largest manufacturing sector, made up of 288,000 companies, 99.1% of which are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).”
Brookes, who admits to being “highly critical and cynical” of the EU law-making process, said that the logical next step would be to take out cloning. “Why not park it in an area of its own, where it can be non-functioning – just like GMOs?”
It may be that the entire proposal will have to be withdrawn and debated all over again between the Parliament and the Council.
For now, however, Commissioner Dalli pledged to “reflect on the disappointing outcome in view of assessing the next steps both with respect to the novel food Regulation and the follow-up to the Commission's report of October on the issue of Cloning in food production”.