Food Law News - UK - 1999

13 October 1999: ADMINISTRATION - Increasing the Openness of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes

MAFF letter, 13 October 1999

Increasing the Openness of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes

Comments are invited by 5 November 1999 on the proposals to increase the openness of the Advisory Committee for Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) that advises Ministers on the safety of novel foods. This is prompted by a wish to increase public confidence in the decision making process by requiring companies submitting applications in the UK for approval of a novel food, to make non-confidential data available to public scrutiny. Although the proposed regulation only applies to England, until the transfer of functions order goes through, the Ministers with current duty to consult include the Secretary of State for Wales. With the agreement of the office of the Secretary of State for Wales, I am therefore also consulting on behalf of the Secretary of State for Wales.

Companies wishing to sell a novel food in the EU are required under the EC Novel Foods Regulation to submit an application to the Competent Authority in the Member State where they first wish to market the food. The novel food is then assessed for safety in accordance with the guidelines that accompany the Novel Foods Regulation. In the UK the ACNFP will continue to carry out the safety assessment (although under changes arising from devolution, the Competent Authorities under the EC Novel Foods Regulation for Scotland and Wales will be devolved). The Committee also appraises assessments carried out by other Member States which are circulated by the EC Commission for comment prior to authorisation being given.

The ACNFP has for some time now been publishing its agendas, notes of its meetings, the minutes, an annual report, all the outcomes of its assessments, and a corporate brochure. Committee discussion papers are made available upon request. In addition it encourages all novel food applicants to deposit their data in the British Library.

It is proposed that all companies submitting novel food applications to the UK will in future be required, to permit the routine disclosure of the non-confidential information that they provide in support of such applications. A draft Statutory Instrument to this effect has been prepared. This would be a temporary measure as the Food Standards Act, when it comes into force, will provide the necessary legal powers for disclosures decided upon by the Food Standards Agency which will take over responsibility for GM food.

Such data would be made available electronically on the ACNFP website. Past experience suggests that the vast majority of the information received from an applicant would be capable of being published in this way. Draft guidelines defining the type of information, such as that which is commercially confidential, that would be excluded from publication have been prepared and views on these guidelines are also sought.

By making the data available before the ACNFP has reached its conclusions on an application, it would be possible to offer anyone who is interested, including members of the public, the opportunity to submit comments which the ACNFP can take into account as part of its deliberations. The intention would then be for the ACNFP's draft assessment to be made available in the same way for any further comments prior to its being finalised and sent to Brussels for transmission to other Member States as now. In this way the decision making process could be further opened up to greater scrutiny.

Although MAFF do not have any powers to impose such requirements on applications submitted through other member states, we will encourage other member states to adopt similar provisions.

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