Novel food law untarnished by disjointed fining rules

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

New EU laws for novel foods are working well despite reports that penalties for selling unauthorised products vary significantly from one country to another.

The novel food regulation 2015/2283 came in to force on January 1, 2018. By then, member states also had to inform the European Commission of the penalties they have in place for non-compliance.

However, not one country managed to do so, according to Brussels-based news site, EUobserver.

An access to documents request​ also showed that fines vary wildly between member states. In Austria, for example, the penalty is €50,000, whilst in Latvia it is €700.

Some countries also have graded fines depending on the severity of the offence and/or the size of the company. In Spain, minor infringements can attract a penalty of up to €5,000, but this can rise to €20,000 in more serious cases. In Holland, a company with fewer than 50 staff would get a €525 fine, whilst larger companies would reportedly have to pay double that.

Standard practice 

Food law experts approached by FoodNavigator suggested this kind of fragmented fining system across the bloc is perfectly normal.

European law specifies that food operators can place only ‘safe food’ on the market. What constitutes ‘safe food’ is standardised, but how individual members states regulate their own food industries is left up to them.

Therefore member state countries take different approaches to the fines they impose, the offences that may arise from breaching food law and how thoroughly food operators are checked for compliance.

“There is nothing wrong with this,”​ explained Dominic Watkins, partner and head of the food group at DWF.  “It is, rightly, down to each member state to choose its own enforcement regime, including the scale of any fines. This is consistent with how each and every EU regulation works.”

Mark Jones, a senior solicitor and expert in retail and food at Gordons, highlighted that different economic and cultural considerations apply and “that is why you see different approaches from different countries to the same issue​. For example, gross domestic product per capita in the UK is around €40,000 but in Poland it is around €12,000.”

Europe’s regulations on novel food cover ingredients that have not been used for human consumption to a significant degree within the EU pre May 15, 2007. Under the new regulations the number of categories of novel food has been expanded from four to 10​, to include cell cultures, nanomaterials and whole insects, for example.

Restrictions relaxed 

Writing for FoodNavigator recently, in part of a series of articles about the new laws​, Katia Merten-Lentz, partner at law firm Keller and Heckman, said the changes are a chance for businesses to “boost their innovation and competitiveness”. ​Previously the rules had been “full of restrictions”,​ she said.

In January, the health and food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said he hoped the changes would make the process “simpler and quicker … while fully ensuring food safety”. ​He hoped to see more innovative products on the market.

Steve Osborn, director and food technology scout at the Aurora Ceres Partnership, said the punishment for those ignoring the novel foods legislation should be on a par with those for counterfeit goods.

He added: “The process of approval should be driven by consumer safety and not a preventative bureaucratic and unnecessarily costly exercise which can hinder those looking to innovate and challenge the status quo.”

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