Asked how the authority would cope with this extra workload, particularly considering the 2165 health and nutrition claims still stuck in its inbox, Dr Valeriu Curtui, head of EFSA's nutrition unit, told us that it would just be a matter of bringing certain projects to an end and moving others around.
He said the same could be said for how the service would be funded with the plan to drop application fees, which the Italian Ministry of Health’s Valeria Di Giorgi said could open the process up to more SMEs.
Speaking at the same Brussels event, Pat O’Mahony, chief specialist at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), said he welcomed the decision, which he said would alleviate disproportionate paperwork pressure currently put on smaller authorities like his own.
However, details like whether EFSA would offer to meet applicants before submission, as the advisory committee on novel foods and processes (ACNFP) sometimes does under the current system, remained unclear. Equally, whether EFSA would continue ACNFP’s tradition of publishing the application, meeting minutes and documents and final opinion for public comments, something EFSA does not do for health and nutrition claims.
Little country, big demand
Ireland has received the second most non-GM novel food applications of all the member states, O’Mahony said. The UK was number one on this list, followed by Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Malta and Poland.
Meanwhile, France received the most non-GM substantial equivalence opinion requests in 2013, followed by Finland, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Poland and Hungary.
He said he did not know why the FSAI was getting so many applications, adding he was not aware of what other member states charged but that the ability to submit applications to the FSAI in English was probably a big draw for applicants. Without change this pressure was only likely to continue or increase, he said.
O’Mahony said it was important to remember novel foods were just one part of its portfolio of other responsibilities including food labelling, fraud detection, allergies, organic, GM, infant formula and nanotechnology.
In April this year the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) was forced to close its doors to novel food applications due to a lack of resources. During this period applicants were told to bring their submissions to other member state authorities.
This decision was then quickly reversed, following pressure from stakeholders.