European legal requirements can sometimes be a real hazzle – both for exporters from outside (in particular developing countries who are not always equipped to deal with them) and for European producers. Safety first, we consumers need to be protected. Fair enough, but how far do you take it? In the case of novel, i.e. new and unknown, food, the EU goes pretty far. And it’s not only truly new and technically innovative foodstuffs that are considered novel, also plants, nuts, berries which are very much part of a traditional diet elsewhere on the planet are novel. Unless we’re already familiar with it, that is. Of all the legal requirements, I think the one set for novel foods is the most difficult one to deal with for small producers. Basically, if your product is novel, you won’t stand a chance to get it on the EU market without help from multinationals or at least large (importing) companies who of course will only invest if the product is really interesting, or some other organisations who have the capacity to assist. But alone, it is simply too complicated (the process of proving that a food is safe, that is) and too costly.
At the same time, the food industry is always looking for new, exotic or healthier food ingredients. And if a product is interesting enough, and of course safe to use, there’s still a chance to get a novel food on the EU market. One example is Stevia. A plant which leaves contain stuff that can be used as sweeteners. A healthier alternative to sugar, and a natural alternative to other sweeteners. After years of work from people who believe this is a good product to use, tests carried out and opinions written and debated, stevia will be granted on the EU market! Actually, it was already granted in France, which had received an exception, but in a couple of months it will be granted in all countries. Good news for Stevia, and probably for the consumer although I don’t have enough technical knowledge to really have an opinion there.
Still, makes me wonder how many innocent plants the novel food regulation is keeping from Europe – and whether it is really in our interest as consumers?