EFSA needs more botanical experts, plant pundits urge

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

"More experts on plants and plant preparations are needed, especially ones with a strong understanding of plant chemistry, of analytical methods, and belonging to a relatively younger generation." © iStock.com / mtr
"More experts on plants and plant preparations are needed, especially ones with a strong understanding of plant chemistry, of analytical methods, and belonging to a relatively younger generation." © iStock.com / mtr

Related tags: European union, European food safety authority

The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) 12-member novel food working group needs more botanical specialists, a stakeholder meeting has heard.  

EFSA invited stakeholders to a meeting in Brussels this week to discuss its draft guidance on novel food, produced in preparation for updated EU novel food law set to come into force on 1st​ January 2018.

One such stakeholder, founder and managing director of Food Law Consult Joris Geelen, questioned the background of members of EFSA’s novel food working group and its Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA).

He said greater a representation of experts with knowledge of botanicals, pharmacognosy and phytotherapy was needed – extending expertise beyond toxicology and nutrition.

Henk van Loveren, professor of immunotoxicology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and chair of the novel foods working group and NDA vice-chair, said: “We have to see what applications we get – but the panel is not closed, we can invite other experts if we see there is a need for another expertise.”

novel food experts
EFSA's 12-member working group on novel foods for 2015-18. 

One audience member suggested botanicals would make up a significant chunk of the novel food applications EFSA will receive once it takes over assessment duties from member state authorities. 

The Commission estimates EFSA will receive roughly 15 novel food applications and 25 third country notifications each year under the new rules.

Geelen, who worked previously for the Belgian Department of Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, said EFSA should echo the expertise seen in the group behind the Belgian, French, Italian initiative BELFRIT, for which he also worked. 

Another stakeholder at the meeting asked if the expertise of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) might be drafted in.  

Dr Luca Bucchini, managing director of Rome-based Hylobates Consulting with a background in botanicals, echoed these calls for greater plant specialists.

“I agree more experts on plants and plant preparations are needed, especially ones with a strong understanding of plant chemistry, of analytical methods, and belonging to a relatively younger generation.

“Long-term experience is very important and is already well represented within EFSA panels.”​ 

Speaking with us after the event however, Geelen said panel expertise was just one part of the problem. 

"For botanicals the damage was done when the regulation got voted on. The broad and strict interpretation of some member states has been legalised now. Only administrative proof of HOC [history of consumption] is requested at the moment, which makes scientific explanation and analyses of safety redundant. The further we go from this absurd date of 1997 - more than 18 years ago - the harder it will get to find the proof."​ 

Novel food is defined as food not consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before May, 1997.

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