Opinion

How Brexit can remove the novel foods roadblock

Jonny Bingham (left) and David Jones: ‘We see this time as one of opportunity’ (Photo©Sacha Ferrier)

In a deep, dark hole on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website is the consultations section – home of poorly publicised, important documents that could change the whole dynamics of our food system.

On the back of Brexit, the FSA has been calling for opinions on some of the EU-derived food laws that we have to follow in order to maintain the safety and security of the food products we make and sell to the public.

While organisations like the Institute of Food Science and Technology try to make a valuable input to each of these calls, the lack of publicity surrounding something being up for interpretation may leave lots of businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) and new start-ups, woefully uninformed.

Recently, there was a call for opinion on certain aspects of the novel foods law. The FSA requested information surrounding the cost implications of demonstrating that a novel food is safe.

Valuable opportunity for input

As an SME that has done work with some companies looking to move business into the UK, this was a valuable opportunity for input.

Currently, novel foods regulations make approaching a manufacturer for an exported product difficult because they would suffer from a minefield of legislation to ensure that nothing else sold in the EU that they make comes in contact with the novel ingredients.

From our viewpoint, novel foods legislation is often a difficult roadblock. Working with foreign companies that wish to move production here, we are prevented from using traditional ingredients due to there being no sales records for that ingredient from over 20 years ago within the EU.

The set date of ‘prior to 1999’ for sales proof is only going to become more difficult to demonstrate as time goes on. Records are often kept for much shorter periods than this, and for other reasons, such as tax. And even if you find a potential company that sold the ingredient 20 years ago – how likely are they to share their sales information with you – a third-party, probable rival, company?

Extremely expensive and time-consuming

In addition to the difficulty with the timeframes, the safety checks required are extremely expensive (particularly the toxicology element) and time-consuming.

Even if you chose to jump through all these hoops because you have an amazing ingredient that makes it worthwhile, chances are by the time you are done, all the major food industry players will have picked up on your work and have begun to develop similar products, shutting you out of the market you developed for yourself.

With such EU-derived laws in mind – and despite all the negatives attached to Brexit – we see this time as one of opportunity for those who can look beyond their current scope.

While the EU is a valuable trading market for us in the food sector, it is also a limiting factor. Brexit may well remove some of these limitations, allowing for wider scope and new, interesting times for food product developers who know their way around the laws involved.

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