Imperfect as they may be, the European Union’s regulatory efforts in the food area have attracted the attention of regulators around the world, some of whom view what is being done in the bloc as a legislative template.
In food and food supplements, like most areas of the EU legislative process, there has been a huge amount of ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ as regulators have attempted to account for the divergent interests of 27 member states plus trade, consumer and government interest groups.
A bill like the EU health and nutrition claims regulation was amended more than 600 times over many years before finally seeing the light of day a couple of years ago. Even now, aspects of it are yet to be resolved.
But legislation when passed, is proving beneficial to industry and consumers alike, and not just in Europe.
Simon Pettman, director of Brussels-based food policy consultancy EAS, said the EU’s work in the area had created a situation where it had become an “exporter of regulation”.
“Governments are increasingly looking towards the EU when developing regulatory policies,” Pettman said in a recent podcast .
The World Health Organization and Codex Alimentarius (the global food standards setting body), were active in food policy, but often at a broad level that did not accommodate the minutiae of legislative development at a national level.
EU legislation is being developed with a strong consumer-protection base as well as a robust risk assessor in the form of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which added to its appeal.
Pettman said the size of the US and Japanese markets means they were also looked to for regulatory guidance.
The rise of China as a supplier of nutritional ingredients and a buyer of nutritional products means its regulatory situation is gaining more attention, but the unique task of unifying 27 nation’s needs, along with the size of the EU economy and its international importance, means developments there are closely scrutinised from all parts of the globe.
“But there is also strong awareness that the EU’s framework has been developed over many years and built up around different cultures, traditions and other aspects,” Pettman said. “So there is a view in many countries that if it works for the EU it can also work for their country.”
He cited the development of food supplements regulations among the 10-country strong Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as an example of the positive influence of EU regulations in other parts of the world.
“The regulations being developed by ASEAN are close to EU standard and developed with EU support,” he said.
The bloc represents 500m people from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines and it is estimated the food supplements industry is worth €1bn.
Pettman added: “Global environment for trade means there needs to be a closer approximation of standards. But there is a long way to go before global standards are in place.”
Pettman noted regulations such as the novel foods rules could be difficult for companies to comply with and presented greater harmonisation challenges.
“Novel foods applications are a major challenge for food ingredient suppliers and food companies in Europe,” he said. “If the EU adopts standards that are too high compared to the global norm, it puts EU companies at a competitive disadvantage in so far as their cost structure for manufacture is considerably higher than their competitors outside the EU.”
“On the other hand their competitors won’t be able to sell into the EU. So if we’re looking at the global environment for trade we see that at some stage there has to be a closer approximation of these standards across the world.”