Food Law News - EU - 1999

26 October 1999: FLAVOURINGS - Commission Working Group on Flavourings - 15 October 1999

JFSSG Letter, 26 October 1999

Commission Working Group on Flavourings - 15 October 1999

The letter provides an update on three issues following the latest Working Group meeting, which took place in Brussels on 15 October:
(a) Proposed amendments to the flavourings framework directive 88/388/EEC
(b) Additives used in flavourings
(c) Construction of a positive list of chemically-defined flavourings

In the case of (a), the Commission is considering an extension to the scope of the directive which could affect users of herbs and spices; as a result, the JFSSG are requesting relevant companies and associations to provide information on the use of certain ingredients.

(a) Proposed amendments to the flavourings framework directive 88/388/EEC

Clarification / extension of the scope

1. A draft Commission proposal has been sent to Member States (document WGF/OO9/99 Rev. 1). One critical element is the attempt to clarify the scope of the directive with regard to the restrictions on the presence of so-called "active principles" listed in Annex 2 of 88/388/EEC. The UK view, as reflected in the Flavourings in Food Regulations 1992, is that these restrictions apply only to foods where the content of the substance is provided at least in part by flavourings, as defined in the legislation. However, the directive is capable of more than one interpretation and some member states consider that these limits also apply to foods where the flavour is provided by normal ingredients and/or by herbs and spices. Several member states have now pointed out that it would be logical in public health terms for the limits in Annex 2 to apply irrespective of how the substances get into the food.

2. The Commission's draft proposal aims to clarify the position by explicitly extending the scope to include "foods with flavouring properties"; however, this is too vague since the description could cover almost any food. The Commission is likely to narrow this down e.g. to "foods containing herbs and spices", which still represents a considerable broadening of the scope compared with the current UK legislation. If carried through, this proposal would place limits on the commercial use of common ingredients which contain significant levels of the substances listed in the Annex, such as nutmeg (a source of safrole) and cinnamon (a source of coumarin). The legislation would take account of existing "traditional" products so that they may continue to contain levels of the listed substances which may be in excess of any general limit for foods and/or beverages. This would however require such products to be specifically listed with an appropriate limit.

3. This is clearly an issue which will require careful consideration. If the directive is modified so as to cover foods which do not contain "flavourings" (as defined in the directive), this will have to be made clear in the title and the scope will have to be clearly defined e.g. in relation to herbal infusions and herbal supplements.

4. The Commission document contains a provisional revised list of "active principles" and proposed limits in foods and beverages. This list will have to be revised in the light of recent discussions at the Council of Europe and advice from the EU Scientific Committee on Food. The Commission has noted that some of the food categories which are currently permitted to contain higher levels of active principles are described only in very broad terms and it wishes to replace these with more precise definitions covering the specific products in question.

5. In order to prepare for the next round of discussions the JFSSG needs to collect information on the sorts of products which might need to be covered by exceptional limits, particularly on products which do not contain flavourings and which are therefore not subject to the limits in the current UK regulations. We have written separately to relevant trade associations requesting this information.

Other issues

6. The Commission's proposed definition for "process flavouring" is to be re-worked in order to take better account of "precursor" flavourings. These are substances which are not themselves flavoured but which are converted to flavoured products during processing of the foods to which they are added.

7. A majority of Member States (including the UK) have supported the proposal for detailed technical legislation on flavourings to be adopted by a streamlined procedure, involving the Standing Committee for Foodstuffs. This would involve deleting Article 5 of the current directive, re-writing Article 6, and making a number of consequential changes to other Articles. At present, detailed measures can only be adopted after they have been debated and agreed by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

(b) Additives used in flavourings

8. The Working Group discussed the Commission's draft proposal for a Council and Parliament Regulation, which would control the use of carriers and other food additives which are used for technological purposes in commercial flavourings. A few member states have existing legislation in this area, and companies report that the absence of harmonised rules can inhibit trade in commercial flavouring products between member states.

9. There was little progress on this issue at the latest meeting. The actual text of the proposal was broadly acceptable to most member states. Since flavourings can also be sold in combination with additives which are intended to have an effect in the final food (e.g. mixed with seasonings, preservatives and food colours), the Commission was urged to modify the text so that these mixtures are more clearly distinguished.

10. The Commission also provided a working paper which lists the additives which are reported currently to be used in flavourings, based on information provided by the European trade association EFFA. Representatives from some member states are extremely concerned about the principle of preservatives and other additives being present, as a result of their use in flavourings, in foods in which they are not currently permitted under other food additive legislation. The Commission has pointed out that the amount of an additive resulting from carry-over would be very small and would be very unlikely to exert any technological effect in the final product.

11. EFFA has been asked to provide additional information on the technological need for the levels of use quoted for some of the additives on the list, and discussions will continue at the next working group meeting.

(c) EC flavourings register - evaluation programme

12. The Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) is reviewing its approach to the evaluation of flavouring substances and the Commission hopes that it will be in a position to agree a new evaluation programme when it meets at the beginning of December. If so, the Commission will seek agreement to a work programme at the meeting of the Standing Committee for Foodstuffs later that month. At Friday's meeting, the Commission tabled a document setting out its proposed programme, including a list of the data which is likely to be required before the evaluations can proceed. This is based on the SCF's discussions to date, and is obviously subject to revision in the light of that Committee's final decisions.

Next Steps

The Commission has invited member states to provide written comments on all of these issues by 12 November.

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