European food law hurdles remain despite harmonisation

Companies continue to grapple with European food regulations even as European Union food laws are gradually centralised. Depending on the product, as many as 27 Member State national laws may need to be negotiated or as little as one, depending on the product in question.

"The past four years have been an intensive period of regulatory change for nutritional products in the European Union, Efi Leontopoulou, the scientific and regulatory affairs manager at Belgium-based consultancy EAS, told the Nutracon Conference in Anaheim, California, earlier this month. "The main question we receive from many food manufacturers trying to market their products in the EU is whether their products must comply with a harmonised EU legislation or with 27 different national approaches. The answer is somewhere in-between. It is important for the food industry crossing into the EU to understand that on certain issues they will have to knock on the 27 different doors of the EU Member States. A major effort for harmonisation, however, is underway.

She noted that while the recent adoption of EU Regulations on food claims and fortified foods, together with harmonised food supplement rules, has at one level brought harmonisation for parts of EU food law, many aspects still require harmonisation to give the food industry the opportunity to enter the EU with a pan- EU formulation.

Leontopoulou highlighted the challenges posed by the new regulatory frameworks and issues that food companies will face when developing strategies for the marketing of their products across Europe, such as novel food status, product formulation, health claims approval, correct labelling and product notification or authorisation requirements.

"Understanding which ingredients are permitted at which levels and where can be complicated if the legislation is not harmonised, as can understanding the requirements in different EU Member States for entering the market — in most cases it is not as clear-cut as a simple label submission.

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