EP News Item, 11 April 2007
Sweeteners, colours, preservatives, antioxidants, emulsifiers, gelling agents, packaging gases… What things we add to our food! "Consumers have a right to know what they're eating", argues rapporteur Åsa WESTLUND (PES, SE). To ensure this, the EP Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety has significantly amended new legislation put forward by the European Commission.
Most of the products added to our ordinary food are designed to improve its quality. They are regulated by a dozen or so EU laws, some of which date back some time. Everyone agrees on the need to simplify the legislation, to bring it into line with the latest scientific findings under the supervision of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).
Views differ, however, on how this legislative arsenal should be modernised. In two votes on 11 April at the Environment Committee, MEPs introduced a range of extra guarantees to make decisions more transparent and improve consumer protection. They also took care to safeguard their own role as legislators.
A common authorisation procedure
Four new regulations are under consideration with a view to replacing the current rules. The first, which is horizontal in nature, sets out a common authorisation procedure for additives, enzymes and flavourings. In the first report by Åsa Westlund the committee voted unanimously to make far-reaching changes to this procedure.
The other three texts deal with each of the categories separately (additives, enzymes and flavourings) for which specific lists of authorised products will be compiled, together with their conditions of use and labelling rules.
Åsa WESTLUND was backed by her fellow Members in her wish to make the new authorisation procedure more transparent, a key condition not only for ensuring consumer trust but also for giving the food industry what she regards as the benefits of transparency. Any decisions taken and the reasons behind them must be made public. If a producer's competitive position might be harmed, that producer may be given scientific data protection for five years.
Any application for authorisation to place a product on the market must be notified to the EP, to interested parties and also to EFSA, whose opinions must be made public. All authorisations must be regularly reviewed.
The Commission, believing that the co-decision procedure is too cumbersome for the regular updating of lists, suggested it should do this work itself after consulting the EC's standing committee on the food chain, made up of national experts. MEPs rejected this idea and reinstated the principle of co-decision.
300 additives to be re-evaluated
Åsa Westlund's second report, which deals with the specific regulation on additives, was adopted by 54 votes to 1. This regulation lays down the conditions to be met if additives are to be authorised. They must not endanger the health of consumers or vulnerable groups, they must be technologically necessary in terms of benefits to the consumer and they must not mislead the consumer. In their amendments, MEPs add that they must not have a harmful effect on the environment.
Specific conditions are set out for sweeteners and colourings. Here, MEPs add conditions relating to flavour enhancers, which they say should only be used if the desired effect cannot be achieved by using spices.
The regulation also lays down the technical information to be included in the list of authorised additives. Here, MEPs call for separate limit values to be laid down for nanotechnologies. They also want labels to state whether an additive has been produced by GMOs.
It should be stressed that the use of additives in non-processed food is prohibited. The same applies to the use of sweeteners and colourings in food for babies and small children.
In parallel to the authorisation procedure for new additives, the regulation provides for a gradual re-evaluation of all additives already on the market - around 300 in number. An evaluation programme will be drawn up one year after the regulation enters into force. Meanwhile, additives which are currently authorised may stay on the market. But after the updating process is completed, any additive not on the authorised list will be banned.
These two reports come up for vote in plenary in June or July.
Two other, related, regulations are being discussed by the Environment Committee: one on food enzymes, for which the rapporteur is Avril Doyle (EPP-ED, IE), the other on flavourings (rapporteur: Mojca Drcar Murko (ALDE, SI). The committee will vote on these on 8 May.