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Commission backs transparency with new food regulation

Following the application of the Transparency Regulation (TR) on 27 March 2021, Nathalie Chaze, Director of Food Sustainability & International relations and Sabine Juelicher, Director for Food and Feed Safety and Innovation discuss the key stages in bringing forward this important Regulation. Together, they highlight the Regulation’s impact on food law, the Farm to Fork Strategy as well as its potential to open up new opportunities in the areas of new food technologies.

What is the so-called Transparency Regulation and what is its purpose? 

Nathalie:

The Transparency Regulation, which mainly amends the General Food Law Regulation, addresses concerns raised by EU citizens on the transparency of the EU risk assessment. It is a direct response to the European Citizens' Initiative to ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides and is built upon the findings of the fitness check of the General Food Law Regulation, a comprehensive policy evaluation. It was swiftly adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in 2019, based on the Commission's proposal tabled in April 2018.

The objective of this new Regulation is straightforward: to make the EU risk assessment system in the food chain more transparent. It also aims to ensure the long-term sustainability of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Strengthening the transparency and the sustainability of the EU risk assessment in the food chain will contribute to EFSA acquiring greater legitimacy in pursuing its mission and ensuring democratic scrutiny of industry studies. Last but not least, it paves the way for integrating the political behaviour of citizens and civil society, throughout the risk analysis process by bolstering risk communication.

The Regulation just came into application, on 27 March 2021, following an extensive implementation work carried out jointly with EFSA.

What practical steps did you take to implement the Regulation? 

Nathalie:

Since 2019, DG SANTE has worked closely with EFSA to make sure that the new Transparency Regulation is implemented correctly and in a timely fashion.

From our side, the Commission amended a set of implementing acts to ensure alignment with the Transparency Regulation. In parallel, EFSA, as required by the new rules, has adopted four sets of Practical Arrangements to address the implementation of certain new provisions, such as on transparency and confidentiality and the pre-submission phase. These arrangements are a significant achievement as they are legally binding means to implement the modalities of the new legal framework provided by the Transparency Regulation.

Elsewhere, both the Commission and EFSA have updated guidance documents and have modernised IT infrastructure to support the application of the new rules. Our priority has been to make sure that all stakeholders, and in particular the companies which will have to abide by the new rules, are ready to comply with them.

What impact will the regulation have on key areas such as GMOs, pesticides and additives? 

Sabine:

Food-chain related matters are complex and close to the heart of EU citizens. Food-related issues mobilise citizens and NGOs, and a perceived lack of transparency can question their trust in science.  

The Regulation through targeted amendments of the General Food Law Regulation and eight other legislative acts, not only creates opportunities to restore trust in science for policy making but also foresees an active role of civil society in the risk analysis process.

This is what is particularly important in the sensitive areas of pesticides and GMOs for instance. Opening up all scientific evidence to public scrutiny early on in the risk assessment process will allow active engagement of EU citizens and civil society organisations, fostering inclusiveness of the EU risk assessment process.  

Reflecting the Regulation’s broad-ranging impact all along the food chain, it will also bring about similar beneficial changes in areas like feed additives, food contact materials, food additives, food enzymes and flavourings, and novel foods.  

Our objective is clear: more transparency for the assessment of scientific studies in the food area should boost citizens’ and NGOs’ trust in the safety of the food chain. 

Will this Regulation boost confidence in the use of new food technologies as promoted by the Farm to Fork Strategy?

Nathalie:

One of the core tenets of the Farm to Fork strategy is enabling the transition from our current food systems model to a sustainable one through research, innovation and technology.

The Transparency Regulation will increase transparency and participation from civil society in the way we explore new avenues in food production. In this regard, the strategy lays out plans to increase the availability and source of alternative proteins such as plant, microbial, marine and insect-based proteins and meat substitutes.

Through increased transparency and strengthened trust in our food safety system, we will increase the acceptability of new knowledge and innovative technologies, which would allow us to reduce the use of pesticides, fertilisers and antimicrobials.

Sabine:

The assessment of the safety of food products resulting from new food technologies will be subject to the rules set out in the Transparency Regulation. Therefore, citizens in the EU, as well as our global partners to whom we export European products, can rest assured that the food that they purchase from the supermarket shelves is, and will remain, of the safest and highest quality.

What are the next steps?

Nathalie:

In the coming years, we will be focusing on developing a general plan on risk communication to ensure a coherent risk communication strategy throughout the risk analysis process, combined with open dialogue amongst all interested parties. Risk communication is an integral part of the risk analysis paradigm. It is the interactive exchange of information and opinions throughout the risk analysis process as regards hazards, risks, risk-related factors but also risk perceptions amongst risk assessors, risk managers, consumers, feed and food businesses, academics and other interested parties.

 

For further information about the Transparency Regulation, please visit: Implementation of the Transparency Regulation