Novel foods are foods and food ingredients that have not been used for human consumption to a significant degree within the Community before 15 May 1997. Regulation EC 258/97 lays out detailed rules for the authorisation of novel foods and novel food ingredients.

For over 3 years, negotiations have been ongoing to revise this Regulation to take into account the latest developments on a number of important issues; including:

  • legal definition of nano-materials and their mandatory labelling,
  • a centralised and quicker authorisation procedure to facilitate innovation from the food industry and
  • specific measures for traditional foods from third countries.  

However, proposals to revise the Novel Food Regulation last month failed due to disagreement on the production and commercialisation of food products from cloned animals. The EU Parliament argued that the Novel Food Regulation should not cover food from cloned animals (or their offspring), but a special law should be adopted on it. The Commission took the view that there are no scientific reasons to ban foodstuffs from cloned animals. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), there is no evidence that meat or milk from cloned animals poses a public health risk. There was no clear majority between the Member States.

As cloning is an expensive process, meat from cloned animals has not been generally commercially viable to date. However, there is commercial interest in animal husbandry from cloned animals. Whilst there is a voluntary moratorium in the trade in meat from cloned animals in the United States this does not extend to the offspring of cloned animals and therefore traceability may become an issue.

Now the conciliation period has ended without agreement it is not clear what form the process of revision of the 1997 Regulation will take. Uncertainty will therefore remain over the definition of nanomaterials and products originating from the offspring of cloned animals, there is also frustration at the current lengthy authorisation process for novel foods and traditional foods from non-EU countries.

Europe needs to provide industry with clarity as innovation races ahead of legislation, or else research and development may be restricted