Research and development (R&D) champion Unilever has voiced deep disappointment and frustration over the collapse of talks reviewing the 1997 EU Novel Foods Regulation, claiming it will hamper food and drink manufacturers' innovation plans.
Proposals to streamline the novel foods approval process by channelling it straight through the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), rather than requiring prior ratification by an individual member state, failed last month. This was because the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers clashed on how meat from cloned animals and their offspring should be regulated.
A Unilever spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: "Unilever is very disappointed that after more than three years of negotiations, the EU institutions have not managed to reach an agreement on a legislative proposal that would have offered important innovative incentives to the food industry. The EU needs innovation-stimulating measures to kick start economic growth.
"Novel foods will now continue to be regulated through the current Novel Foods Regulation which can take more than 30 months for an approval and offers no legal clarity on application of new technologies such as products originating from the offspring of cloned animals."
Multinationals could look abroad...
In the past, bosses of Unilever and more recently General Mills UK md and Food and Drink Federation (FDF) president Jim Moseley have warned that multinationals might move R&D overseas if the EU failed to simplify its novel foods approval procedures for manufacturers.
Proponents of the simplified process argued it would cut the time taken to commercialise novel foods to about 12 months. It was also suggested that the revised Regulation should allow for swift rubber-stamping of traditional food from non-EU countries by requiring just that the European Commission (EC) be notified with evidence of its safety.
"The application process is unnecessarily slower than it should be," said Barbara Gallani, director of food safety and science at the FDF. "This is the most unfortunate aspect from my perspective, considering the effort that has gone into trying to find a solution."
Nanomaterials remain grey area
Owen Warnock, partner at law firm Eversheds, said: "This means an increase in the difficulty Europe has in dealing with new developments. This is a problem if Europe wants to remain competitive on the international stage."
The definition of nanomaterials, which was to have been included in the revised law, also remains a grey area.
"It's a shame we have lost the definition through this lack of agreement," said Gallani. However, she believed the EC would try to establish a working definition in another context. "It needs to address the definition in areas wider than food. Once that definition is agreed, a hole will be found for it."
Gallani also challenged claims from some certain quarters that it would take two to three more years to get a review of the Regulation back on track, saying it could take less time.