Novel Foods including genetically modified (GM) food are subject to rigorous safety assessments before decisions are made at EU level to authorise their use.
Novel foods are defined as foods that have no significant history of consumption within the EU prior to May 1997.
GM food and animal feed are approved through the EU-wide Regulation (EC) 1829/2003. The approval procedure involves a centralised risk assessment conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Nanomaterials in food
Nanomaterials are often naturally present in foods since the characteristic properties of many foods rely on nanometre-sized components such as nanoemulsions and foams. Homogenised milk containing nanosized fat micelles is an example of such conventional food.
Nanotechnology involves the manufacture and use of materials and structures at the nanometre (one millionth of a millimetre) scale. Opportunities created by nanotechnology and the novel properties of such tiny particles have given rise to interest concerning their possible use in foods.
The new substances added to foods could be finely divided forms of existing ingredients, or completely novel chemical structures. Nanotechnology is still an emerging science, and to ensure food safety its application in the development of novel foods and food production processes is subject to approval under the EC Novel Foods Regulation (No 258/97).
Cloning of livestock
The cloning of animals using the somatic cell nucleus transfer technique (SCNT) has caused concern worldwide. The questions raised relate especially to the welfare of animals subject to cloning.
Since SCNT cloning is regarded as a new production technique, the foods produced from the cloned animals are covered by the Novel Foods Regulation. This means that meat or milk from cloned animals are subject to a safety evaluation before they can be put to the market in EU. In Finland SNCT cloning is not used in animal breeding. There is no national legislation on animal cloning. However, it is covered by the Animal Welfare Act (247/1996) that contains general provisions covering animal breeding and genetic engineering.
Labeling of GM food for consumer choice
The Ministry recognises that citizens may still want to choose whether to buy genetically modified (GM) foods or not, no matter how carefully they have been assessed for safety. If a food or feed consists of GMOs or contains ingredients produced from GMOs, this must be indicated in the list of ingredients on the food package label. Also for GM produce sold in unpackaged form information must be displayed next to the food where it is on sale. Provisions for GM labeling are set out in EU legislation and in Finland detailed guidance is provided by the Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira). Evira has also prepared guidance on how information may be provided on a voluntary basis to emphasise that products contain no GM material.
Expert body covering safety issues
Finland’s Novel Food Board evaluates the safety of novel foods. This independent group of scientific experts advises the Ministry on any matters relating to novel foods, novel processes or genetically modified foods. Although evaluations of the safety of GM foods are the responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the national board still plays an important role advising the Ministry on related issues and contributing to EFSA’s risk assessments.
Evira as Finland’s contact point
The Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira) is the European Commission’s national contact point concerning issues related to novel foods and EFSA’s contact point for issues relating to GM foods, feeds and seeds. Applications for market approvals in all of these areas should be submitted to Evira. Evira’s website provides detailed information on application procedures and dossier requireme