Food Law News - EU - 2008

EP Press Release, 6 May 2008

ADDITIVES - Update food additive rules and label azo dyes, says EP Environment Committee

EU rules for authorising food additives, flavourings and enzymes need to be updated and simplified. Foods containing azo dyes should be labelled, and flavourings and enzymes should be authorised only where the consumer benefits, said the Environment committee in a second reading vote on four draft regulations today. Although broadly satisfied with the Council common position, MEPs reintroduced amendments to clarify procedures and improve consumer protection.

Food additives are currently regulated by a dozen or so EU laws, which the four new regulations will simplify, update 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: more transparency needed

In the "common authorisation procedure" report by Åsa Westlund (PES, SE), and adopted unanimously, MEPs re-introduced amendments calling for a more transparent authorisation procedure.

Additives must benefit consumers and not harm the environment

The committee also unanimously adopted another report by Åsa Westlund (PES, SE), on additives such as sweeteners, colourings, preservatives, antioxidants, emulsifiers, gelling agents and packaging gases.

A food additive may be authorized only if it is safe in use, if there is a technological need for its use, if its use does not mislead the consumer and if it has advantages and benefits to him, says the report. Food additives would be completely banned in unprocessed food, as would sweeteners and colourings in food for babies and small children. Member States may continue to prohibit the use of certain categories of food additives in the traditional foods produced on their territory.

MEPs welcomed the fact that the Council had taken up Parliament's first reading requests for the authorization procedure to take account of the environmental effects of additives and a provision that the additives should not mislead the consumer. They nonetheless adopted several amendments to clarify these requests further.

Better labelling and possible ban on additives containing azo dyes

As new scientific information on health risks for children exposed to azo dyes (colourings like E 107 or E 110) had emerged since Parliament's first reading, MEPs inserted a new amendment asking that foods containing these dyes be labelled "azo dyes may provoke allergenic effects and hyper-activity in children". They also agreed that where there is evidence that a food additive might cause undesirable side effects (e.g. azo dyes), the Commission, in consultation with the Member States, should take immediate action to ban it.

How will the system work?

In parallel to the authorisation procedure for new additives, all additives already on the market - around 300 - will gradually be re-evaluated. Additives which are currently authorised may stay on the market but once the updating process is complete, any additive not on the approved list will be banned.

Flavourings and enzymes must benefit the consumer and be technologically necessary

The food industry uses many natural and artificial flavourings, about 2,600 of which are currently registered. Another category of substances - food enzymes - has been used for hundreds of years, for example in baking, cheese-making and brewing, where they products perform useful functions such as improving texture, appearance and nutritional value.

As with food additives, the committee says that both flavourings and enzymes should be authorized only if there is a benefit to the consumer and stresses that the precautionary principle should apply. MEPs believe that flavourings should be used only if there is a reasonable technological need for them (as for additives and enzymes), given that the addition of excessively strong flavourings can mask poor quality in prepared food.

Flavourings "natural" if 95 % natural origin

MEPs welcomed the fact that the Council had taken up the EP's first reading request that a flavouring should be deemed "natural" only if 95% of the flavouring element is of natural origin (the Commission had proposed 90%). Members added a recital stating that where possible, attention should be given to the effect of flavourings on vulnerable groups, in particular the impact on the taste preferences of children.

The report on flavourings, drafted by Mojca Drcar Murko (ALDE, SI) was adopted unanimously and the one on enzymes, by Avril Doyle (EPP-ED, IE) - was adopted with 51 votes and 1 abstention.

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