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Novel foods progress may mean removing clones

By Jess Halliday , 04-Apr-2011
Last updated the 04-Apr-2011 at 16:05 GMT

All is not well down on the novel foods farm. If food innovation in Europe is to thrive anew, MEPs and the Council need to get past the recriminations over the failed talks and remove the troublesome question of cloned foods from the negotiating table.

Since the conciliation talks collapsed last week, the food industry has been wringing its hands over the lost opportunity for creating a new climate to foster innovation in Europe.

A legal definition of nano-materials had been hammered out. A centralised authorisation procedure was agreed to speed approval for innovations. Traditional foods from third countries had their own, special measures.

It was all going so well…

…Until the clones came along. This new breed of regulatory conundrum effectively dashed hopes of agreement, causing all the positive agreements to be ditched and setting back plans for a regulatory regime that fosters innovation by at least three years.

Food from clones and their kids occupy a classic regulatory Catch 22. The European Parliament says there is no way they should enter the food chain without full traceability. But there are no full traceability systems – and even without this food from animals with a clone somewhere in the family tree are not barred in other markets.

The Council argues that demanding traceability that cannot be delivered means blocking imports – and risking tit-for-tat sanctions from muscular trading partners like the US.

Setting aside the thorny question of how heavy a role trade interests should play in forging new legislation, there is little chance of closing this Catch 22 any time soon.

That means that, even if the proposal is re-tabled quickly, if clones stay in the beastly issue will only raise its head again in three years time, and trample anew over hopes for a better environment for innovation in Europe.

Far better would be to deftly herd clones out of novel foods, and into a regulatory pen of their own, where they can receive the dedicated, specialist attention they need. Other novel foods, meanwhile, can be released to roam free in the lush, green pastures of the European market.

Without this, food companies and scientists who have been sitting tight, waiting for the revised regulation before seeking approval instead of labouring under the old one, face tough choices.

Should they hedge their bets that the novel foods 1.0 will deliver faster than version 2.0 can see the light of day?

Set their launch dates back another three years?

Or simply pursue more friendly markets like the US and Australia, shunning Europe for her unfriendliness?

The Commission's next move, whenever that may be, will be closely scrutinised. Until then there can be no forecasts for when a new crop of innovation will be ready for harvest - or whether the decision-makers will still be chewing the same old controversial cud in 2014 and beyond.

Jess Halliday is senior editor of FoodNavigator.com. She has worked in print, broadcast and online media in both Europe and the United States for 12 years and recently gained a MSc in Food Policy with distinction at City University London. Jess lives in a small village famous for figs in southern France.

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