“There are hundreds of thousands of natural products in the world and we are hardly eating any of them,” Dr John Wilkinson, consultant on the regulatory approval of natural products in Europe told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“Demand for new and interesting foods is high and there are so many foods out there that can cater for consumer demand for innovation,” he said.
‘Laborious and costly’
Wilkinson, who spoke at a conference on European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) health claims and regulatory issues at a Vitafoods conference this week, said current EU approval systems for novel foods were laborious, costly and needed to change.
Applications for novel food approval were often looked at by around 100 experts before being approved. This was an example of legislation creating a barrier between consumers and food companies wishing to get a product to market, he said.
“What’s happened is that legislation has created a barrier for natural foods,” said Wilkinson. “No matter how much it has been used around the world [outside of the EU], it has to be approved and there is lots of work behind that.”
There was a quicker and easier way for novel foods to be approved, while still maintaining a high level of safety, he said.
New form of novel food approval
In 2000 Wilkinson worked with 50 different cooperatives and organisations on a new form of novel food approval.
“We worked together to file a dossier for baobab tree fruit, which is commonly consumed in South Africa and wasn’t on sale and widely consumed in the EU before May 15 1997 [when novel food approval legislation was implemented].”
A dossier with comments from leading botanists and professors to build up a picture of the fruit’s safety, proving that the baobab fruit had been widely and safely used in South Africa, was created.
The information was submitted to the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), the body authorising novel foods in the UK, without toxicology trials and trials on animals as traditionally required for novel food approval.
“Baobab fruit was subsequently approved for use in the EU in 2010,” said Wilkinson. “Its approval has changed the legislation and allowed [baobab] producers outside of the EU to export into a market with 500M consumers.”
Meanwhile, in December last year, the European Commission published a draft proposal to centralise novel food regulation at an EU level, to allow innovative food to reach the European market faster.