Long-awaited EU novel foods reform set for October 14 adoption; concerns remain

Novel reforms reforms are expected to be approved by a full sitting of the European Parliament on October 14
Novel reforms reforms are expected to be approved by a full sitting of the European Parliament on October 14

Related tags Novel foods European union European food safety authority

Unless there is a shock shift, a full sitting of the 751-seat European Parliament (EP) will soon pass significant reforms to the EU’s now ‘not fit for purpose’ novel foods regulation – but widespread concerns remain.

Even though the draft opinion is set for adoption – probably Wednesday, October 14 according to an EP press officer - European Parliamentarians, NGOs, researchers and industry debated the content of the proposed regulation and broader concepts of safety and the place of technological food at a 2-day seminar at the EP in Brussels concluding today.

The safety and necessity of nanomaterials in food was high among ongoing concerns as was cloned animal foods which will temporarily rest within the legislation until separate cloning-specific proposals are adopted at an undetermined future point.

Less controversial were simplified application and authorisation procedures that should reduce time-to-market for nutrients and foodstuffs from outside the EU which can demonstrate tradition of use and ‘new’ nutrients and foods like insects, algae and fungi.

These reforms were needed for a piece of legislation enacted in 1997 that MEP James Nicholson (European Conservatives and Reformists) – regulation rappateur for the EP’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) committee that channelled a lot of the debate – called “An old regulation no longer fit for purpose.”

Perhaps the most significant of the reforms is that all applications will move from member state authorities to the European Commission and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). It is estimated this will reduced processing time from three years to 18 months.

“We are ready to make our part to the novel foods aggregation,”​ said Dr Valeriu Curtui, head of EFSA’s nutrition unit.

Applications will be processed at no cost and data protection will expire at five years in what is considered to be a win for small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

“We cannot tolerate this…”

José Bové, MEP & author of 'Alimentation en hotage' (Food in Hostage)

A definition of nanomaterials in foods (threshold of 50% but likely to be lowered as better analysis technology comes onboard) drew ire from French MEP José Bové (​Greens/​European Free Alliance). He said the defintion is unworkable and the introduction of nanomaterials into foods was “irresponsible”​ in the absence of conclusive safety data.

The MEP questioned the usefulness of nanotechnology in food and said the few public surveys conducted showed most people were against them.

“I do not want to be bullied on this,” ​he said. “The former director of EFSA said we are not able to evaluate the effect of nanomaterials. Why today are we tolerating this? We cannot tolerate this and we know there are health risks.”

While Bové conceded the draft was likely to be adopted in Parliament in its current form, rising public nanofoods awareness will bring the issue to the fore again.

“That is the shame about this – the public does not even know nanomaterials are already in their foods. In M&Ms. In gum. Dunkin’ Donuts has just removed titanium dioxide [colourant] from its products in the US because of health concerns. This is a nano material, it is already in the EU food supply. It is E177. But nobody knows about it.”

University of Leuven lipid-focused researcher Dr Imogen Foubert said nanomaterials could deliver real benefits like helping formulators attempting to reduce salt, fat and sugar in foods.

Dutch MEP Jan Huitema (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) supported the regulation draft.

“It was very necessary to come up with this update,” ​he told us of a legislative reform process that saw a first proposal in 2008. “We need to accommodate promising techniques that there are to tackle food challenges in the world. Better nutrition, longer shelf life, producing more with less, greener foods, better animal welfare, less pesticides, better air quality – innovation is needed.

 “If you over-apply the precautionary principal then you will never have any advances.”

Once the regulation is adopted there will be a 2-year transition period.

After publication the EP announced the vote was being delayed until October 27.

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