Paul Brannen, a just-elected MEP representing the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in his European role and the Labour party in the UK, said the industry must back up its insinuation that food firms would be more innovative in Europe if it weren't for cumbersome legislation holding them back.
His comments came as a response to a presentation given by Marta Baffigo, a scientific and regulatory affairs consultant at agri-ingredients giant Cargill, who was speaking at the workshop on novel foods at the European Parliament on behalf of the industry association FoodDrinkEurope (FDE).
Baffigo said figures showing the lower percentage of expenditure allocated by EU food firms for research and development (R&D) compared to other EU manufacturing sectors and markets, suggested novel food rules might be detrimental to sector innovation.
Brannen, who noted on Twitter he was on a learning curve with EU food regulations, said 'mights' and 'maybes' weren't good enough. "You're saying: 'They would have done this, but they didn't because of the regulation.'"
"As a member of Parliament, I need facts. And I think you, the food industry, have the resources to find those."
Doing the math
Baffigo said she did not have figures beyond those included in her presentation, but added such regulation was clearly not conducive to innovation or good business.
In her presentation, Baffigo said within total R&D investment for the top 1,000 companies in 2011 from the EU's manufacturing sector, food and drink products accounted for just 1.5%. This compared to 23.2% for the automobile sector, 15% for pharmaceuticals and 11.1% for technology hardware.
One mooted change to the rules: From generic authorisations to application-linked authorisations would need to be accompanied by practical data protection provisions to preserve investment incentives, she said, adding, "Otherwise innovation will come to a stop."
Current five-year protection may need to extend to 10 to give adequate protection and time for companies to make a return on their investment.
"Clearly the incentive for investment in Europe is very low."
A work in progress
The European Parliament workshop, hosted by the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI), saw discussion among stakeholders from policy makers to industry associations to consumer groups.
The changes could see EU member states stripped of their assessment duties and replaced by a centralised system controlled by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). It is thought such a change would speed up application turnaround time and avoid duplication in a process the food industry has accused of being lengthy, costly and legally uncertain.
The shakeup could also include:
- A separate approach for novel foods and ingredients with a history of safe use outside of the EU.
- A no-fee policy which could encourage more applications from SMEs.
- Specific decision deadlines.
- Rethinking the cut-off date for history-of-use (currently May 1997).
Baffigo said FDE was in favour of this centralised proposal, which she called a "one key, one door approach".
Proposed 9-month deadlines for EFSA needed to be backed by strict time constraints at the standing committee stage.