Updated rules on 'novel foods'

Due to new scientific developments, the EU plans to update and simplify its rules on so-called novel foods, such as products including nanomaterials, or food from non-EU states.

How did we get here?

According to the European Commission, 'novel foods' are all types of food which had not been consumed in a "significant degree" in the European Union before May 1997. Basically, a type of novel food does not have a history of consumption or is produced in a way which has not yet been used for food. Generally, novel foods include GMOs, food produced with nanomaterials, meat from cloned animals, as well as traditional foods from third countries. 1997 was when the current regulation on novel foods was adopted - a little while ago. That is why there seems to be need for some kind of renewal. 


Why is this important for me?

Because you want to know if something you eat is safe and healthy. The new rules are designed to provide safety and clarity, both for consumers and producers of novel foods. Taking into account recent developments in food production, it became necessary to update and simplify the existing rules from 1997. Therefore, the proposal wants to make the authorisation procedures for novel foods more efficient and transparent. 


What's the content?

A harmonised procedure will be introduced to check and authorise novel foods - including a clearer definition and the (re)introduction of food categories such as "food containing microorganisms, fungi and algae" or "food derived from cloned animals or their descendants". So far, the authorisation worked individually for single products, now this system is replaced by a generally applicable authorisation procedure. Nanomaterials used in foods will also be assessed before they are placed on the market. Approved novel foods must not pose a threat to human health and their use should not mislead the consumer. Already authorised novel foods can still be produced and sold.

The simplified procedure will look like this: To market a novel food or ingredient, companies must apply with a national authority for authorisation, presenting the relevant scientific information. The national authority may allow the company to market its product if no additional assessment is necessary, and if the Commission and/or other Member States do not object. Before approval, however, the Commission will also ask the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for an opinion. Concerning traditional foods from third countries, such as hemp or palm sugar, the producer/importer who wants to put these traditional foods on the EU market has to prove that they were safely used in a third country for at least 25 years.

The European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety voted on the matter, supporting a very strict approach when it comes to nanomaterials. Accordingly, an ingredient qualifies as ‘nano’ if it contains at least 10% of nanoparticles. Also, MEPs added that all novel food should be subject to post-market monitoring. Although, animal cloning will be dealt with in a separate directive, MEPs amended the scope of the novel food proposal to include cloned meat products. Until the specific legislation on food derived from cloned animals and their descendants enters into force, such food should fall under the scope of the novel food regulation, and be appropriately labelled for consumers: "Food derived from cloned animals/descendants of cloned animals."


What's happening with this legislation in the future?

The proposal was amended by the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and other committees have also given their opinion, like the Committee on International Trade and the Agriculture Committee. In negotiations with the Member States a deal could be reached in June 2015. The Parliament formally adopted the deal in late October 2015, shortly after this was confirmed by the Council.


Related Bills:

Cloning of animals

More Possibilities for the Restriction of GMOs

Organic production and labelling of organic products


Pic by: freedarst/shutterstock.com

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