The comments came at last week's conference for the European Technology Platform (ETP) Food for Life in Brussels, where 140 industry experts met to discuss implementing to the European strategy. The EU Food for Life project was set up to strengthen innovation processes, as well as to improve knowledge transfer and stimulate competitiveness. However, the existing novel food assessment procedure means manufacturers experience huge delays in receiving a verdict on their innovative products and so needs improving, said the committee. It added that the current focus on the risk posed by novel foods rather than their benefits means consumers "are left to think that all manufactured food pose a risk", leading to a lack of consumer confidence in the food industry. "This issue needs to be seriously addressed and new ideas and thinking are urgently needed" said the committee. Industry members are therefore eager to hear whether proposals for revising the novel foods regulation will be adopted in the EU. The proposals are currently being discussed in parallel by both the European Parliament and the Council, and the much anticipated first draft report is due to be published this week. A spokeswoman from the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) said it considers "the revision of the regulation should stimulate innovation in the food and drink industry, protect the functioning of the internal market as well as public health and, at the same time, facilitate market access for novel food products". However, she added that ways to protect innovation, simplify and link the procedures, and provide appropriate transitional mechanisms for pending applications need further review. Revising novel foods regulation Europe's novel foods regulation (EC No 258/97) was introduced in 1997 and requires any food not commonly consumed in the EU prior to May 1997 to undergo rigorous safety assessment before it can be brought to market. This is not the first time the novel foods assessment process has been blamed for restricting innovation. Last year, a report by economist Graham Brookes also drew attention to the problem. Additionally, he found that it currently takes an average of two and a half years for a novel food to be approved in Europe compared to six and a half months in the US. This January, the European Commission adopted a proposal that aims to create a more efficient and practical system for new food techniques and technologies to gain access to the European market more quickly. Other areas of focus for Food for Life As well as improving the novel food process so as not to stifle innovation, the conference said legislation is also an area that needs to be continually assessed. The limitations arising of patent protection further stress the need for rising numbers of collaborations, said the committee. Because of the sheer expense involved in applying for a patent and upholding it, sometimes even large manufacturers cannot finance their research. Therefore, the committee said: "It will be necessary to explore joint activities such as public-private partnerships or private-private partnerships." The committee also said increased number of collaborations would secure food security and consumer confidence. Particularly, it identified joint academic-industry funding partnerships as able to pave the way for ensuring food safety and improving public perception of the industry.
In the lead up to this week's publication of the first draft report on proposed changes to the novel foods regulation, concerns have again been raised on how the current process restricts innovation.