Trade Talk: When is a food not a food?

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Related tags: European commission

Trade Talk: When is a food not a food?
The second issue of the Food Standards Agency's magazine Bite focused on nanotechnology and its potential for developing novel foods.

Safety was the main aspect addressed and no reference was made to the European Commission (EC) claims legislation, which is causing so much aggravation. Any firm spending zillions on research into nanofoods would be horrified if, at the end, it was told that it could not make the claim necessary to justify the venture.

But let us consider the fundamental question as to whether some nano-creations could be claimed to be food in the first place. I turned first to my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, which defines food as a 'substance taken into the body to maintain life and growth'.

In this context, consider the example of a nanofood described in Bite, which comprises nanoparticles of chocolate filled with water droplets to make low-fat chocolate. I don't think this type of pretend chocolate could be deemed necessary to 'maintain life', except perhaps to people addicted to the real thing.

Dawn French once said that there were two types of women: those who liked chocolate and the rest, who were complete bitches. The latter might love nanochocolate, assuming that it could be called 'chocolate' under that famous EC regulation. But that's another story!

The legal definition of food in EC Regulation 178/2002 is broader. It defines food as: 'any substance or product intended to be ingested by humans'. And chewing gum, for example, counts as a food. Some might disagree with that logic, but I suppose you have to put it somewhere. So, if chewing gum is an 'honorary' food under the law, then so too could be a nanofood, however artificial, and whether or not it 'maintains life and growth'.

Foodies might be alarmed. If you can have nanochocolate, what about nanocheese and nanobacon? Suddenly, certain foods become 'non-foods' in the academic sense because they are not necessary to maintain life and growth. What are they for, then?

Well, they are designed to stop us eating too much real food and thereby avoid 'over-growth' in the horizontal direction. However, they could be considered to help maintain life by preventing obesity and other potentially fatal diseases. Nevertheless, I think I prefer the Dawn French philosophy, but with a little more portion control.

Clare Cheney is director general at the Provision Trade Federation

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Related topics: Legal

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