22nd Mar 2018


Not a bug: insect 'novel food' fines vary widely across EU

  • Edible insects for sale in the US. EU rules require businesses to check if such 'novel foods' are authorised (Photo: Zac Bowling)

Food companies selling unauthorised 'novel foods' made from insects or algae face substantially different penalties depending on the EU country where they operate.

An access to documents request by EUobserver revealed that small businesses in the Netherlands would be given a €525 fine, while the potential punishment in Slovakia is anywhere between €1,000 and €500,000.

  • Outside Europe, for example in Thailand, bugs are part of a normal diet. (Photo: Barnaby Dorfman)

It also showed that member states had not informed the commission of their fines, until asked by this website.

Companies that want to sell a novel food product – generally speaking food types that were not widely consumed before 15 May 1997 – are obliged to check if the product is on the EU list of authorised products.

The definition of novel foods covers, among other things, products made from insects, fungi, algae, and micro-organisms. As the realisation of the heavy carbon footprint of eating meat is increasing in Europe, these types of food may provide alternative protein sources.

Products only make it to the list if scientific evidence shows that there is no safety risk.

The EU has regulated so-called novel foods since 1997. On 1 January 2018, an updated regulation went into force, and it required from member states that they put in place penalties for violations of the regulation.

"The penalties provided for shall be effective, proportionate and dissuasive," the regulation said, in what is a standard clause in EU law.

But as with previous examples, like bills on open internet access and cheating with car emissions, the EU's 28 member states interpret that requirement differently.

Fines fragmentation

In Austria, the fine for breaking the novel foods rules is €50,000, and €100,000 in case of a repeat offence. In Estonia the level of fines depends on the type of offence, but €3,200 seems to be the highest possible fine. Latvia has a €700 fine in its law.

In Hungary the minimum fine is 10,000 forints (€32), the maximum is 500m forints (€1.6m), as long as that is not more than 10 percent of the company's net revenue in the preceding year.

Malta's fine is €2,329, and €4,658 in case of a repeat offence. The €525 fine in the Netherlands applies to businesses with less than 50 employees. If they have more than 50 employees, the fine is doubled.

Spain makes a distinction between minor and grave infringements, punishing the former with up to €5,000, and the latter with between €5,001 and €20,000. The fine in Slovenia is between €2,000 and €10,000.

The fragmentation in fines means that businesses operating in several member states will be punished differently for the same offence.

Missed deadline

Member states were required to inform the commission of the penalties they have put in place by 1 January 2018.

On 8 January, this website filed a freedom of information request, asking the commission to reveal which notifications it had received.

According to the commission's reply, not one member state had done so before the 1 January deadline.

But after the commission received EUobserver's request, it began to email the relevant food safety authorities in the member states, asking them to comply with the notification requirement.

One commission email from 30 January specifically asks member states to respond because of the access to documents request.

It raises the question whether member states would have voluntarily sent the commission their penalty provisions, had they not been prompted by the access to documents request.

Commission and council dig in on GMO opt-outs

The European Commission and the EU's national governments pass each other the buck on who should move first on a heavily-criticised proposal on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

Brussels wants EU states to share flak for GMO approvals

European Commission proposes changes to the little-known but often used comitology procedure, which results in deadlocks whenever controversial issues like genetically modified organisms are on the table.

GMO opt-out plan remains in waiting room

The commission wants to give the power to member states to reject EU-approved genetically modified organisms, but the Maltese presidency is unlikely to approach the issue any time soon.


Intellectual property protection - the cure for Europe's ills

The European Commission is considering rolling back medical research incentives, on the faulty assumption they are somehow driving higher drug prices. But not only is that premise flawed – the proposed fix will do nothing to benefit ordinary health consumers.

Supported by

News in Brief

  1. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says
  2. Italy's centre-right set to share top posts with 5-star movement
  3. Brussels condemns tear gas in Kosovo parliament
  4. Finland pays billionaire €400,000 in EU farm subsidies
  5. 44 leaders sign up for Africa free trade area deal
  6. British 'blue' passports to be made in EU
  7. EU to have 'immediate' trade talks with Trump
  8. Separatist activist renounces Catalonia leadership candidacy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU summit takes hard look at Russia
  2. Germany casts doubt on Austrian intelligence sharing
  3. EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit
  4. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  5. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  6. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair
  7. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  8. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections