Since 1997 the EU Novel Food Regulation (NFR) has been in place to regulate the placing of novel foods in the 15 member states of the EU. The objective of the Regulation is to protect public health by ensuring food safety. The NFR defines novel foods as food ingredients that were not used for human consumption to a significant degree within the EU before 15 May 1997. This concerns the majority of exotic traditional foods, many of them originating from underutilized species and from developing countries, which only recently have started to make their way into foreign markets. The stringent food safety assessments required by the NFR places an unreasonable high burden of proof on those bringing traditional food products from the South to the EU market.

Subsequently, the NFR represents a threat to trade with these products. In the recent past, the EU market has repeatedly rejected exotic traditional foods from various developing countries based on the stipulations of the EU NFR. The Regulation has a particular impact on small producers and entrepreneurs in developing countries for which the export of these produces is a good opportunity to increase income and a stimulant for sustainable utilization of these genetic resources. The efforts of many development cooperation programs to promote trade with developing countries might be jeopardized.

In a joint effort the GFU, GTZ and CIP analyzed the implications of the EU NFR on imports into the EU of food produces derived from underutilized species.

The issue was brought to the attention of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Ministry for Consumer Protection, Nutrition and Agriculture (BMVEL) highlighting the inconsistency between development policies and consumer protection within the EU. A proposal was developed containing recommendations how the interests of developing countries could be better taken into account without cutting down on consumer protection. This proposal was submitted through BMZ to BMVEL, the competent national authority for the implementation of the Regulation in Germany with the request to forward the recommendations to the EU-working group on Novel Food currently reviewing the Regulation.

The GFU led task force partnered with Bioversity International, the UNCTAD BioTrade Facilitation Programme and the Dutch Center for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI), to analyze the implications of the Regulation on trade in exotic foods with developing countries. A detailed discussion paper including recommendations for a revision of the Regulation was prepared "The EU Novel Food Regulation Impact on the Potential Export of Exotic Traditional Foods to the EU: Suggestions for Revision", submitted to and discussed with several Directorates of the European Commission. This initiative triggered a lot of activities by other players.

The EC recognized inadequacies of the NFR in its treatment of exotic foods. As a consequence, in 2006 the Commission launched a new consultation aiming at gathering the views from the public and the Member States.

In January 2008, the Commission presented a new draft of the Regulation on its Web site proposing several important and positive changes.

Here the link to the draft made on 14 January 08 that is open for comments.

It is expected that the new version of the Regulation will be presented to the EU Parliament in 2009 for approval and will enter into force soon after.

GFU and partners consider the proposed amendment a very reasonable compromise between the needs for consumer protection and product innovation that also accommodates developing countries’ concerns. The new Regulation should be much less of a trade hindrance than the current one, and encourage investment in building export supply chains based on biodiversity products.

The full text of the Regulation, the studies carried out, the recommendations and other relevant materials can be found below.

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