Novel foods rules are a barrier to innovation

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Winning novel foods approval is more difficult within the EU than in the US
Winning novel foods approval is more difficult within the EU than in the US

Related tags European union European food safety authority

Europe’s strict novel foods approval system is preventing businesses from bringing new novel ingredients into their home markets and driving them to countries such as the US instead, industry leaders have warned.

“Approval systems for​ [novel] ingredients in the US are more flexible,”​ said Dr Flore Depeint, a research associate at the Institut LaSalle Beauvais, one of France’s leading food research bodies.

Getting novel foods approval in the EU is costly and since 2008 nearly 75% of applications have been rejected by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and only 58 applications between 2008 and 2013 had been successful, she added, speaking at the Vitafoods show in Geneva last month.


The flexibility of regulations in the US was “enticing”​ to European businesses, said Dr Amy Clewell, senior research associate at the US American Institute for Biosocial and Medical Research. “Although there is the FDA​ [Food and Drug Administration] and the system of GRAS​ [generally recognised as safe], procedures aren’t as strict as the EFSA’s,”​ said Clewell.

“The US market is generally more appealing to some ingredients companies because the standard for approval is not as high as it is in the EFSA,”​ she added.

Stringent controls on novel ingredients were stopping European businesses from accessing a market with over 500M consumers for their new products, said Dr John Wilkinson, a consultant on the regulatory approval of natural products in Europe.

Legislation had created an expensive and laborious barrier between new, natural foods and European consumers, claimed Wilkinson. “There are hundreds of thousands of natural products in the world and we are hardly eating any of them as a result.”


At the end of last year the European Commission published a proposal to overhaul the novel foods approval process. Changes are set to be implemented in 2016 and aim to reduce the red tape and burden of approval.

Under the new proposals, which would see the centralisation of the approvals process move away from Members States, novel foods would be allowed into the EU market if an applicant could prove they had a ‘safe history of use’ in a third country for at least 25 years and there were no objections from Member States.

However, Wilkinson said, despite these improvements to the EU approvals process, it was still unlikely to be as flexible in practice as in the US.

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