EP News Item, 10 July 2007
Parliament approved with amendments a set of four regulations aimed at updating and simplifying methods for authorising food additives and bringing them into line with the latest scientific findings. One goal is higher safety standards for consumers but this streamlined legislation should also boost innovation and competitiveness in the European food industry.
The four first-reading reports were tabled by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. In today's plenary vote, MEPs decided to make the proposed procedures more transparent, to improve consumer protection and to safeguard the EP's right of scrutiny over any updates to the legislation.
Food additives are currently regulated by a dozen or so EU laws, which the four new regulations will simplify and bring into line with the latest scientific findings. The first regulation sets out an EU-level "common authorisation procedure" for additives, enzymes and flavourings. The other three deal in detail with each of these categories, for which lists of authorised products will be compiled, with conditions of use and rules on labelling. The European Commission will manage the lists of approved products, subject to risk assessments carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Single EU-wide approval
The first of the four reports, dealing with the "common authorisation procedure", was drafted by by Åsa Westlund (PES, SE). A single EU-wide approval procedure will be simple and consistent, and is thus expected to be welcomed by industry.
MEPs decided that the procedure should be more transparent: any decisions and the reasons behind them must be made public, and any application to market a product should be notified not only to the Member States but also to the EP and to stakeholders.
Parliament also says applicants should be granted scientific data protection for five years if, as part of their application, they have to reveal trade secrets that could help their competitors.
Additives must benefit consumers and not harm the environment
Turning to the three sectoral regulations, Parliament first adopted another report by Åsa Westlund (PES, SE) on additives such as sweeteners, colourings, preservatives, antioxidants, emulsifiers, gelling agents and packaging gases.
In its draft text the Commission proposed that such additives must not endanger the health of consumers or mislead them, and must be technologically necessary. They would be completely banned in unprocessed food, as would sweeteners and colourings in food for babies and small children.
MEPs go further, arguing that the environmental impact of food additives must not be overlooked, that they should only be used if they bring benefits to consumers and they must not mislead consumers as to specific qualities, for example, the freshness or naturalness of a product. There should be separate limit values for nanotechnologies, and labels should state whether an additive has been produced from GMOs and - for allergy sufferers - whether it contains azo-dyes.
How will the system work? In parallel to the authorisation procedure for new additives, all additives already on the market - around 300 in number - will gradually be re-evaluated. Additives which are currently authorised may stay on the market but, after the updating process is complete, any additive not on the approved list will be banned.
Flavourings and enzymes
The food industry uses a great many natural and artificial flavourings, with around 2600 being currently registered. Another category of substances - food enzymes - has been used for hundreds of years, for example in baking, cheese-making and brewing, where these products perform useful functions such as improving texture, appearance and nutritional value.
Parliament believes food enzymes should be allowed only if they do not mislead as to the freshness or naturalness of a product. As to flavourings, MEPs believe these should be used only if there is a reasonable technological need. In addition, a flavouring should be deemed "natural" only if 95% of the flavouring element is of natural origin (the Commission proposes 90%) and the effect of flavourings on vulnerable groups should be investigated, in particular the impact on the food preferences of children.
As with food additives, Parliament says that both flavourings and enzymes should be used only if there is a benefit to the consumer and, if they are produced from GMOs, this must be indicated on the label. In addition, the precautionary principle should apply.
The report on flavourings was drafted by Mojca Drcar Murko (ALDE, SI) and the report on enzymes by Avril Doyle (EPP-ED, IE).
Lastly, in all the reports, MEPs spelt out the fact that, for any technical updates to the legislation, the "regulatory procedure with scrutiny" is to be used, thus giving Parliament the right to intervene if it considers necessary.
The legislation now goes to the Council of Ministers, which is expected to carry out its first reading in the autumn.