The food industry has until 1 August to respond to the consultation, which was launched by the Commission's health and consumer protection section as a means of gauging the impact the changes would have on the industry and consumers.
The commission said that changes to the novel foods rules were necessary because GM food no longer falls under its scope. The proposed changes are designed to boost product innovation in the industry, and make cross-border trading easier.
Nonetheless, the commission is seeking feedback on how best to create a more streamlined authorisation procedure, taking into account, for example, particular needs of traditional exotic food from third countries.
"Novel foods" are defined as those products that were not consumed to significant degree in the EU before 15 May 1997, the date the original legislation came into force. Such foods thus go under a pre-market safety assessment and authorisation process before being allowed to go on sale in the 25-member bloc.
Novel foods are divided in three main groups. One group covers traditional foods, such as noni juice, sourced from outside the bloc. A second group covers newly developed innovative foods such as phytosterols. A third group covers food produced by new technologies with impact on food, such as fruit juice produced using high pressure processing.
Under the currently legislation traditional foods, which were not on the EU market before 1997, goes through the same rigorous safety assessment as any newly developed innovative food. This is perceived by third countries as unjustified barriers to trade for their traditional foods, the Commission noted.
The proposed changes are designed to develop a more adjusted safety assessment system and by clarifying the definition of 'novel'. The use of new technologies that have an impact on food would also be covered by the proposals.
One proposal would require product makers to disclose to consumers specific information about novel foods. Another proposal would allow an applicant to make one submission when applying for approval of a novel food and at the same time for uses covered by other sectoral legislation, such as additives, flavourings, and extractions solvents.
The changes would fit into the current Commission policy, contained in proposals to the European Parliament and Council calling for the bloc to establish a common authorisation procedure for food additives, food enzymes and food flavourings.
A common authorisation procedure for these food categories would be the first building block of a cross-industry legal act. Such an act would harmonise the authorisation procedures for all the approvals in the food sector.The original Novel Foods regulation came into force in 1997. A consultation with industry and regulators along with an independent review by a consultation company were carried out between 2002 to 2003.