29th Sep 2023


Novel food — from safety checks to grocery shelves

  • The EU says a 'novel food' is food that has not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997 (Photo: European Parliament)
Listen to article

Antarctic Krill oil, protein extract from pig kidneys, magnolia bark extract and the mung bean. All and many others are on a list of approved novel foods for sale on the European market.

The last on that list, the mung bean, is a base ingredient for plant-made eggs produced by US firm Eat Just. In 2020, Eat Just submitted an application to get mung bean listed as an EU novel food. Two years later it was approved.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Before mung bean got the European Commission's stamp of approval, it first had to go through a scientific review.

That review is carried out by the Italian-based agency, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). "The team that is working on this has grown considerably," confirmed EFSA spokesperson, Edward Bray.

The EFSA has received some 200 applications for novel foods since the EU introduced new rules in 2018. "That's more than we received in the whole period from our foundation in 2002 up to this date," adds Bray.

This scientific review can take up to nine months. In some cases, it may take longer. But Bray said that is usually because of missing data from the companies.

Some 19 applications are pending, for instance, on cannabidiol (CBD) foods due to a lack of data.

"CBD is quite a specific case. We put all of the applications on hold at the same time. Our assessment of available studies showed data gaps regarding the safe use of CBD as food," said Bray.

EFSA scientists say they need more data to determine the effect of CBD on the liver and gastrointestinal tract, for instance. But once EFSA gives a product the green light, the European Commission usually follows through.

Novel food regulation

The Brussels-executive says the 2018 novel food regulation means innovative foods can get onto the market quicker. And it defines novel food as food that had not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997.

Prior to 2018, applicants would first go to a member state for approval and then to EFSA. The new regulation created a centralised authorisation system.

"An e-submission system has been developed to facilitate the online submission of novel foods applications," said a European commission official.

Firms can also retain an exclusive right to sell their approved novel food ingredient for up to five years. After that, anyone can market it.

It means the process is more simple and efficient, said the official. But not everyone agrees.

Among them is Swedish liberal MEP Emma Wiesner.

"I'm coming from a traditional farmer's party, but I'm also an environmentalist," said the 30-year old, who also holds a masters degree in science and engineering.

Wiesner is the European Parliament's lead MEP on a new European Protein Strategy. "This will not be a strategy about human intake of animal protein. That's not what it's about. It's not a farmer strategy," she said.

Instead, she says the strategy seeks to increase protein crop production in Europe for use in novel technologies and novel foods.

This includes plant-based and alternative protein for human consumption, as well as animal feed. Compared to novel food technology in Singapore and Israel, Europe is lagging behind, she said.

Wiesner says getting authorisation and permits takes too much time in Europe. "So that can really hamper a lot of cool projects and new technologies," she said.

Belgian MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere, who is working on the European Protein Strategy on behalf of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), drew similar observations.

"Providers of novel food continue to face too many administrative barriers to get their products on the market," he said. For Vandenkendelaere, the 2018 regulation on novel foods already needs an update.

Do novel foods pose an existential threat to traditional farming? Not really, says Vandenkendelaere.

"I see novel foods mainly as an opportunity to get proteins from new sources and strengthen our diversity in food," he said.

This article first appeared in EUobserver's magazine, Alt-Protein: Eating away climate change?, which you can now read in full online.


Big Agri's lies: green EU farming not to blame for food insecurity

The agribusiness narrative is a masquerade. A smokescreen to water down environmentally-friendly reforms and maintain industrial agriculture. A smokescreen to which a majority of European policy-makers, including member states, are dangerously buying into.


Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food, talks to EUobserver

EIT Food sees alternative proteins, or 'protein diversification', as CEO Andy Zynga prefers to call it, as a promising avenue to address some of the shortcomings of our current food systems.

Fermenting a revolution

Let's focus for a moment on technology. Specifically, what might be the most important environmental technology ever developed: precision fermentation.

Alt-Protein: Eating away climate change?

The editor-in-chief introduces the online version of EUobserver's 2023 print magazine on future food sources — and the potential of alternative proteins for both human diet and climate.

Mycelium food and EU regulation

In the 1960s, among fears of the so-called 'protein gap' — the idea that a growing global population would need an unsustainable amount of protein production to avoid malnutrition — researchers at British Petroleum made a remarkable discovery.

Latest News

  1. Poland's culture of fear after three years of abortion 'ban'
  2. Time for a reset: EU regional funding needs overhauling
  3. Germany tightens police checks on Czech and Polish border
  4. EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making
  5. How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?
  6. Resurgent Fico hopes for Slovak comeback at Saturday's election
  7. EU and US urge Azerbijan to allow aid access to Armenians
  8. EU warns of Russian 'mass manipulation' as elections loom

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us