For seven years the European Union has benefitted from the European Citizens’ Initiative, an instrument of direct democracy, which allows EU citizens to call on the European Commission to propose a new law. Once an initiative gathers 1 million signatures, the Commission decides on what follow-up action to take in response.
Some of the registered initiatives proved to be successful and some of them were rejected. But, for some of those rejected, the high profile gained by campaigners forced EU legislators to be seen to do something.
An example of this is the European Citizen’s Initiative on glyphosate, a campaign that sought to ban glyphosate, and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides. Rejecting such an outright ban as an appropriate response, the Commission nevertheless was forced to announce in 2018 that it would come up with a proposal to improve transparency of risk assessment of food safety.
After over 18 months working on its response, on 13th June 2019, the Council of the European Union officially passed the reviewed General Food Law Regulation, which aims to bring more transparency to the scientific assessment of food safety. The new legislation should be published in the Official Journal of the European Union at the beginning of September 2019 and will be implemented in 2021.
Along with the reviewed General Food Law Regulation, other changes will cover eight further laws covering sectors of the food chain such as feed additives, food additives, smoke flavourings, food contact materials, plant protection products, food enzymes and flavourings, and genetically modified organisms (both their cultivation and their food/feed uses).
The main changes
The biggest change is that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will have to make public all the studies and information supporting a request for a scientific assessment by EFSA at an early stage. The information will be published electronically. with stakeholders able to download the information easily.
The changes brought about by the new regulation will also affect the renewal procedure for previously authorised substances on the market. From 2021, applicants will have to notify EFSA before submitting the renewal request. This will allow EFSA to launch an initial consultation with third parties, after which it will advise the applicant on what areas the renewal application will need to cover.
The changes will allow all stakeholders and other interested parties, along with the EU members states and the relevant EU institutions, to engage with the risk assessment process at an early stage, so minimising risks of subsequent disruption that could ultimately impact safety in the agri-food chain.
The new and reviewed Food Law Regulation is seen as a positive step not only in increasing transparency and so generating more trust from EU citizens in the EU food safety chain, but also as an incentive for relevant stakeholders to provide robust and timely feedback to all relevant scientific assessments.
A good example of citizen activism delivering a beneficial result, if not quite the result they were demanding.
The Whitehouse team are experts in food law and regulation, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of food manufacturers, distributors and consumer organisations, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our food and drink policy experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at firstname.lastname@example.org.