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Smoke signals: How will the EU's flavour ban impact the food industry?
Siân Yates

Siân Yates

14 June 2024

Smoke signals: How will the EU's flavour ban impact the food industry?


 

In a nutshell


🚫 EU ban on smoky flavours


The EU is taking decisive action to protect public health by banning eight smoky flavourings used in food products. This move comes in response to concerns about the potential cancer risks associated with these additives.


 Timeline of the ban


The proposed ban was introduced by the European Commission in November 2023 and received endorsement from member states in April 2024. The phase-out period will begin once the ban is officially adopted, which is anticipated to occur soon.


The timeline for phasing out these flavourings varies by product:


  • Traditional foods: hams, fish and cheeses that use these smoky flavourings as a substitute for traditional methods must comply within five years.

  • Processed foods: crisps, soups and sauces are required to phase out these additives within two years.


🤔 Reasons for the ban


The ban is grounded in scientific research indicating that smoky flavourings can contain harmful chemicals, which are formed during the smoking process. These chemicals, present in both natural and artificial smoke flavourings, have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.


By eliminating these additives, the EU aims to reduce exposure to these potentially dangerous substances and promote safer food consumption.


 

The European Union (EU) has decided to ban several artificial smoke flavourings commonly used in a variety of food products – including meats, cheeses, sauces and snacks – after health authorities linked the ingredients to potential genotoxicity concerns.


The decision, endorsed by EU member states in late April, comes after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that the majority of smoke flavourings assessed posed potential genotoxicity concerns, meaning they could damage genetic material within cells.


"The relevant decisions are based on scientific assessments by EFSA, which concluded that for all eight smoke flavourings assessed, genotoxicity concerns are either confirmed or can't be ruled out," the European Commission said in a statement. "EFSA's opinion is based on an updated methodology, assessing new data submitted by the applicants."


Genotoxicity is a serious health issue, as changes or mutations to genetic information within cells may increase the risk of developing conditions like cancer and inherited diseases.


Crucially, EFSA said it was not possible to define a safe level of consumption for this type of toxicity, prompting the EU to pursue a blanket ban as the most prudent course of action.


Where smoke flavourings are used to replace traditional smoking methods, such as ham, fish and cheese production, the transition period will be five years. For uses where the smoke flavouring is added solely for extra taste, like in soups, crisps and sauces, the phase-out will be just two years.


 

📅Timeline📅


-In April 2021, the European Commission proposed a ban on the use of certain smoke flavouring primary products in food and beverages.


-In December 2022, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union reached a political agreement on the revised regulation on smoke flavourings used or intended for use in or on foods.


-The revised regulation bans the use of smoke flavouring primary products derived from the pyrolysis of various materials, including wood, in food and beverages.


-The ban is set to come into effect on 1 January 2025. This will prohibit the manufacturing, import, export and placing on the market of food and beverages containing these banned smoke flavourings.


-There will be a transitional period until 1 July 2026 for the sale of products that were lawfully placed on the market before the ban takes effect.


 

The impact of the ban is expected to be widespread, as these smoke flavourings are ubiquitous across the industry.


Major producers like Unilever's Unox brand, which makes 16 million 'rookworsten' or smoked sausages per year using the banned ingredients, will have to drastically change their formulations.


The ban has also raised significant concerns in Ireland, where Kerry Group has warned it could cause "major economic harm". The food company estimates that up to 40% of the ham and bacon sold in Ireland relies on the now-restricted smoking method.



A silver lining for smoke?


However, not everyone is opposed to the EU's decision. Sensient Flavors & Extracts Europe, a supplier of natural flavour alternatives, sees the regulation as an opportunity to explore cleaner, safer solutions.


“This ban can bring additional challenges in some applications where primary smoke flavourings are not used for the only purpose of flavour signature,” Jeremy Marichez, innovation manager at Sensient Flavors & Extracts Europe, explained.


“An example is in meat, fish or cheese where liquid smoke flavourings were used to impart colour, texture and microbiological stability impacts next to the flavour signature.”


He continued: “Those challenges can offer new opportunities for the development of cleaner alternatives from natural solutions providers”.


As a result, Sensient has released its SmokeLess Smoke range. The range of aromatic solutions with smoke characteristics meets the demand for a natural-based approach to smoke flavours, addressing both consumer preferences and regulatory food safety requirements.


Meanwhile, I.T.S Taste said in a statement on its website: “The legislation surrounding the use, labelling and declaration of ‘smoke flavourings’ is quite distinct and sits outside of the EU legislation for flavourings and as such, many food manufacturers are becoming more reluctant to use true smokes and are looking to create the flavour and aroma of smoke by using natural flavourings.”


In response, I.T.S has created a variety of ‘smoke-free’ natural flavourings that provide authentic smoky notes for a variety of product applications, all while being labelled as natural flavourings.


Sensient's SmokeLess Smoke range

Smoke without fire


With the phase-out periods in place, food and beverage manufacturers across the EU will be challenged to rapidly innovate and reformulate their popular smoke-flavoured products.


The industry faces a delicate balancing act of meeting consumer demand while ensuring the safety of its ingredients in line with the new regulations. The stakes are high, as the distinctive smoky taste is a beloved flavour profile in many European culinary traditions.


However, the health concerns raised by EFSA have compelled the EU to take decisive action, forcing the industry to adapt to a new era of safer, cleaner alternatives.


#EU #Europe #smokyflavours #flavour #cleanlabel



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