The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has backtracked on a decision to close its doors on EU novel foods applications after stakeholder unrest at the UK government austerity driven measure.
Last week, Chris Whitehouse, from UK and Brussels-based Whitehouse Consulting, told us that applicants were being rebuffed by an automatic email response saying: “If your enquiry relates to submitting a novel food dossier, please note that due to current limited resources, the UK is unable to accept any new novel food dossiers for assessment, until further notice. Therefore, if you are interested in submitting a novel food dossier to the EU, we advise you to contact another EU member state, further details can be obtained from the European Commission.”
FSA said stakeholder concern had forced its hand and it was now returning to business-as-usual - albeit with delays.
“Due to the current volume of applications, there may be a delay before application dossiers can be checked and formally accepted. We are working to clear the backlog as quickly as possible. Companies can make novel food applications via any of the member states, and the option of approaching another member state is available,” Beverley Cook, senior communication manager for the agency, told NutraIngredients.
Avoiding a freeze
Whitehouse had said the initial shut down was “an appalling development”, which was bad for British business and innovation. He pointed the finger at austerity measures in the UK which meant job losses and resource cut backs.
In addition, the authority was under particular strain because of its global reputation for fairness and a “science based” system, meaning many international companies were directing applications to the member state.
Whitehouse welcomed the FSA action but was wary of delays. “Let’s hope that things aren’t just stuck in the pipeline and that the agency invests the necessary staffing resources to maintain its reputation for efficiency. This change of heart is good for British, European and indeed global business.”
FSA said it was not possible to give a precise timeframe for responses, but said it would be "a few months". It said current arrangements would remain in place until the end of 2016 or early 2017.
Cook said information about the number of applicants waiting in line was confidential, with applications published for public comment only when formally accepted.
Independent of proposed centralisation?
Whitehouse suggested the initial lock down was related to a new centralised system, which would see the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), not EU member states, responsible for processing dossiers.
However, FSA said its recent move to reopen to applications was independent of the proposed changes to the EU regulation on novel foods.
Currently, companies wishing to market foods or ingredients that do not have a demonstrable history of consumption within the European Union before 15 May 1997 must present an application dossier to a member state authority for novel food approval.