European novel-foods revamp welcomed

Waiting times could be reduced to a single year

EUROPE A European Commission proposal to streamline the notoriously long-winded approval process for novel foods has been warmly received by the European food and supplements industry.

The novel-foods regulation, which requires authorisation for foods and ingredients not present in the European Union's 27 Member States before May 1997, has been much criticised for the often inordinately lengthy timeframe involved in gaining market authorisation. To date, the average novel-foods decision is three years.

The legislation has been criticised as acting as a barrier to trade, and in opposition to one of the European Union's founding principles — to promote free trade.

"The proposal aims to deal with some shortcomings of the current regulation,? said Pieter Lagae, regulatory adviser at Belgian-based food law and policy specialists, EAS. "A number of innovative and interesting ingredients are from outside Europe, and at the moment traditional foods from [developing] countries, for example, need to undergo the same novel-foods assessment as ingredients that are not that common or are fairly new in the food area. In the revised proposal it would be sufficient to notify this type of food and demonstrate the history of safe food use in the country of origin.?

If the proposal is adopted, new foods and ingredients would no longer have to be first submitted to individual member states before being passed to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and then out for comment among European Union members. Instead, applications would be presented directly to the EFSA. This revision alone could slash average processing times to one year.

"This aims to create a more efficient and practical system for regulating novel foods,? said EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou.

Other areas of the proposal include codifying more transparent novel foods and ingredients criteria. "There are currently no easily accessible lists or methods to determine the status of your food,? Lagae said. "This could change, as the proposal refers to a procedure to collect information on the novelty of a food.?

Applications awaiting adjudication include African Baobab dried fruit pulp, Asian Kiwiberry concentrate and CLA. A phytosterols/stanol-enriched oil was the only novel-foods approval in 2007. There were eight in 2006 and three in 2005.

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