Guide

Novel foods

What are novel foods?

A 'novel food' is a food or food ingredient which has not been consumed to a significant degree in the EU prior to 15 May 1997. Novel foods either do not have any history of consumption in the EU, or are produced using new processes which result in one or more of the following:

  • changes to the food's composition
  • changes to the food's nutritional value
  • undesirable substances in the food
  • changes to the way in which the food is metabolised

Using high pressure processing as an alternative to heat pasteurisation is an example of a novel food process. Novel foods can include different types of products - for example:

  • oils and other extracts or concentrates including from existing foods
  • new carbohydrates and protein sources
  • seeds and berries

Why novel foods are developed

Food companies may want to introduce novel foods for different reasons, for example because:

  • they can be produced more efficiently
  • they provide health benefits for consumers

Are novel foods regulated?

Novel foods can only be legally sold in the EU if they have passed a rigorous pre-market safety assessment and been authorised. In the UK, safety assessments are normally carried out by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP). The ACNFP is an independent committee of scientists appointed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Novel foods regulations also cover:

  • food from cloned animals - such as milk, meat or eggs
  • nanotechnology - for example used in food packaging

Simplification of novel foods legislation

The European Commission (EC) has introduced a new EU novel foods regulation. The new regulation:

  • updates and broadened the definition of novel foods to include whole insects
  • centralises the assessment process thereby reducing the time taken to authorise a novel food
  • provides a simplified assessment procedure for traditional foods from non-EU countries
  • introduces a Union list of authorised novel foods
  • offers data protection for certain innovative novel foods

Researching public opinion on novel foods

The FSA is responsible for protecting consumers' interests in relation to food matters. They keep up to date with public opinion about emerging food technologies. Their research shows that the public is still wary of these new food technologies. Genetically modified (GM) food and animal cloning remain the areas that people are most concerned about.