Chinese firm challenges ‘irrational’ classification of monk fruit product as novel food
Posted on 5th December 2022 at 21:59
Food Safety Authority’s decision will have ‘long-lasting’ repercussions, court hears
A decision of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) will have “long-lasting and unjustified” repercussions on a Chinese firm that hopes to sell its “melon family” fruit decoction for consumption as food in the Irish and EU markets, the High Court has heard.
Guilin GFS Monk Fruit Corporation is suing the FSAI, claiming the authority “irrationally” and “unreasonably” classified its monk fruit product as a “novel food”.
Under the European Union’s Novel Food Regulation, an ingredient is considered novel if deemed to have not been used to a significant degree for human consumption among any member state before May 15th, 1997.
Guilin says it is a “world-leading” producer of monk fruit and monk fruit products, including decoctions, which it describes as water extracts of the small, round fruits, primarily grown in China, to be consumed as an ingredient in teas, desserts, sauces and other foods.
Guilin’s sales and marketing manager, David Thorrold, said in an affidavit that the FSAI’s decision will have “serious, long-lasting and unjustified repercussions” for the firm.
The classification will require Guilin to make a novel food application, which will likely take two to three years to draft and a further one to three years for European Commission review, he said.
With leave of the High Court secured on Monday, an early step required for taking court proceedings, Guilin can now seek judicial review of the FSAI’s decision with the aim of having it quashed.
Through its counsel Lorna Lynch SC, the Guangxi-registered firm persuaded Mr Justice Charles Meenan its claim contains legal points that will be “arguable” at trial.
Ms Lynch earlier told the court it was “completely unclear how and why” the FSAI rejected extensive documentation her client submitted about the pre-1997 food consumption of the decoction in the United Kingdom, she said.
The authority misdirected itself on what was the appropriate legal test to apply in determining significant pre-1997 consumption within the EU had not been proven, she said.
In legal documents the company says members of the Chinese community resident in the EU consumed monk fruit “foods”, which were “readily available” in most Chinese supermarkets in the UK/EU before 1997.
Rejecting the firm’s dossier, the FSAI allegedly said data from questionnaires and face-to-face interviews were of “limited use” as primary evidence of a history of significant consumption since it may not be verifiable compared to product receipts or import and export data published by a reliable source.
The firm says, among its other legal arguments, this reasoning is “irrational” and seeks to impose an evidential test that is not based on the Novel Food Regulation.
Guilin is a joint venture between Chinese firm Guilin GFS Bio-Tech Co and New Zealand company BioVittoria.
The FSAI was not formally notified of the leave application or represented before the court on Monday. The case was adjourned until next year.
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