The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) has announced that its annual conference will take place at Autoworld Brussels on November 27 and 28. The programme includes sessions on generating growth, serving consumers, respecting the environment, and a plenary session on the topic of sustainability. Specific issues to be addressed include the outlook for global food demand, and the possible implications for food supply in the EU, whether markets can achieve growth in the face of rising food prices. Speakers will also focus on issues of competitiveness and whether the food and drink sector is rising the challenge of innovation. Novel foods and innovation This latter point is pertinent in light of an economic briefing published last year, which said that innovation - and, as a result, competitiveness - is being hampered by tough novel foods regulations. Author Graham Brookes said companies also have a reduced rate of return on their investment because of the amount of time they have to wait for novel foods approval. If it has to wait 30 months or more for approval before it can even launch, this return can be reduced by 30 per cent, or an average of €4m per product. There are hopes that the effect of the novel foods regulation on innovation will be reduced however, as the European Commission last month adopted a proposal to amend the current rules. Included in the package are measures to streamline the process, thus reduce waiting times. In addition, there are provisions for data protection of newly developed scientific evidence and proprietary data that is provided to support an application. Labelling and the consumer The CIAA congress in November will also tackle some other key regulatory areas that are on the horizon for the industry, including food labelling. As part of a session on 'Serving consumers', attention will be given to whether nutrition labelling helps consumer knowledge and healthy food choices, and how industry is helping consumers with these choices. It will also give a progress report on the CIAA's voluntary labelling scheme for GDAs - guidance daily amounts. Labelling of food products is particularly pertinent at present, both in the light of the recent nutrition and health claims regulation which is in the process of being implemented, and the new labelling regulation. The final labelling proposal was published at the end of January, and again, the CIAA has expresses views and concerns. One big area of concern is that while the Commission appeared to be broadly in favour of front-of-pack schemes giving information on specific nutrient content, like the CIAA's GDA scheme, it also leaves the way open for national schemes to be used as well. This means that there may be big variations between member states. "We fear this approach will substantially weaken the single market and consequently the competitiveness of the food and drink industry," said the CIAA in its response to the publication. While the industry association said it understands the European Commission does not feel it is equipped with sufficient data to back one of the various schemes currently being propounded, it also fears that the national schemes "will lead to consumer confusion rather than consumer information". Other areas in which the CIAA is seeking a say include the proposal for 3mm minimum font size for mandatory information, which it says will compromise brand information and restrict consumer choice. There is a possibility that the situation on this will have moved on by the time the CIAA Congress comes around. Sabine Nafziger, director of consumer information, diet and health issues at the CIAA said that there is no time limit on first readings, which can go on for as long as a year, depending on the complexity. The third session of the congress will deal with respecting the environment, and the plenary session will be on the topic of sustainability. More information on the CIAA Congress 2008 can be found at www.ciaacongress2008.eu.