Plant extracts in meats, short circuit in Europe


European consumAtors are clamoring for ‘natural‘ foods and are answered by the growing supply of products free of additives, preservatives and dyes in particular. The so-called ”

clean label

and ‘free from’ statements on the label. Thanks to the recovery of centuries-old experiences of using

of some ‘


and to technological innovation ‘according to nature

. The European Commission, however-after funding this type of research in one of the most sensitive areas, the preservation of meat products – takes a step back. With a controversial interpretation of the applicable rules.

Short circuit


Natural preservatives in meat, the misunderstandings of the European Commission


DG Research

of the European Commission, which is responsible for FP7 and Horizon 2020 research projects, has funded a number of projects in recent years aimed at reducing the use of


And nitrates in meats. Identifying the synergies of phytocomplexes (i.e., substances naturally present in certain plants) that can perform the technological functions necessary to ensure the food safety and organoleptic qualities of meat foods over time. Of note in this regard is the research project ‘


, thanks to which several processed meat producers, including in Italy, have been able to use only plant extracts to naturally preserve their products.

DG Sante
of the same European Commission a little later, however, introduced an almost insurmountable obstacle to the development of this area of research. Under pressure from a bloc of Nordic countries-Germany and Denmark in the forefront-and in the incredulous silence of governmental representations from other member states, Brussels adopted a stance opposing the use of plant extracts with a secondary technological function. Apparently ignoring both the research projects funded by the institution itself and the growing consumer demand to be able to choose nitrite-free meat products.

The PAFF – Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, in which DG Sante and representatives of the health administrations of the member states participate – unanimously adopted Opinion 17.9.18 on the use in food of plant extracts that perform a technological function. (1) This opinion reconfirms positions already expressed by the Commission in previous statements in 2006 and 2010, (2) according to which plant extracts that exert in food an albeit secondary technological function (e.g., “The Commission’s preservative, antioxidant, stabilizer, etc.) should always be qualified as food additives.

This approach, according to PAFF Opinion 17.9.18, applies not only to extracts (fermented and non-fermented) that contain high levels of nitrates and/or nitrites, but to the totality of plant extracts capable of performing a technological function in food. Also in relation to plant extracts used in food products with the primary function of flavoring or flavor preparation. Where flavorings are intentionally added to food with a technological purpose other than flavoring, they would therefore still fall under the regime established for food additives.

Natural ingredients or food additives?

According to PAFF, any ‘functional’ plant extract should come under a special prior authorization procedure (under EC Reg. 1331/08 et seq.). As well as compliance with the relevant labeling requirements and conditions of use, like any other food additive, which postulate purity criteria. Criteria that are characteristic of substances obtained through chemical synthesis or biotechnology, but not as easy to guarantee on natural ingredients derived from plants, whose components are inevitably subject to variations related to climatic, soil and seasonal factors.

In reality, almost all of the plant extracts currently available in the Internal Market are not included in the list of additives in Annex to Reg. EC 1333/08. The compilation of which is derived from a complex centralized authorization procedure, following a thorough scientific evaluation of technical and toxicological profiles by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Thus, the safety of a rosemary essential oil should be evaluated using criteria similar to those used for a synthetic additive, without any distinctions or simplifications in favor of natural substances that have been used for centuries in food preparation.

The dubious value of an interpretation

The European Commission with its right arm is funding innovation on meat preservation using plant extracts-with more than 1.5 million euros in grants (3)-and with its left arm is trying to stop the concrete development of that same research. Conditioning the use of natural extracts on extremely onerous procedures means excluding SMEs and small-medium industries, or at least delaying their ‘time-to-market‘ by a couple of years. Just in time for Northern European industrial giants-the only ones capable of dealing with the complexity of the scientific dossiers required by Efsa-to regain dominance over a promising market segment.

The legal value of the Commission’s interpretations of European regulations, moreover, is by no means a foregone conclusion. Official interpretation of EU law is indeed the exclusive prerogative of the European legislature and the Court of Justice. Which, in a recent pronouncement, took a different position from a guideline issued by the Commission with the consensus of the member states. Stating that the relevant document ‘has no binding value‘. And ‘moreover, it is the same document itself that states, in point 1, that it has no official legal force and that, in the event of a dispute, the interpretation of Union law is ultimately up to the Court.’ (4)

The interpretation proposed by PAFF on 17.9.18, moreover, appears to be inconsistent with other previous reading offered by the Commission itself regarding the legality of so-called ‘coloring foodstuffs. Natural ingredients of plant origin used precisely by virtue of their technological functions (coloring agents, like other food additives subject to special regimes) and yet allowed, under the conditions of use indicated by Brussels in not so distant 2013. In a document that, combination (!), has been de-published from the DG Sante website as it is ‘under review’. (5) Double short circuit.

Affinities and divergences

The position of BEUC, the confederation of associations that is supposed to guarantee consumer rights in Europe-unless it receives generous subsidies from the European Commission-in turn induces some doubts. (6) Interestingly, BEUC itself has bitterly opposed the use of plant extracts with a technological function in foods. Alongside the manufacturers and industrial users of artificial additives, that’s right. Those who are supposed to represent European consumers (and the SMEs that provide for them) thus support the positions of ‘Big Food‘. (7) Without anyone ever doubting the safety of natural plant extracts (as has been the case with nitrites, which have been the subject of various attentions even by public research agencies).

This is not the first time that BEUC takes an opposing matrix position to consumer interest. Just recently-when the Unfair Trade Practices Directive was being discussed-BEUC had come to the defense of the European retail giants. (8) Opposing the introduction of rules to mitigate their abuses of power to the detriment of their supplier microenterprises and SMEs that result, as explained, in the degradation of product quality.

Combination, BEUC Director General Monique Goyens sits on the EuropeanAdvisory Board of the ‘Open Society‘ Foundation of the speculator George Soros (protagonist of Bilderberg Club and Trilateral Commission). And who on earth will Monique represent, 99.9 percent or 0.1 percent of consumers? Porchetta eaters with rosemary (additive?) or Beluga caviar regulars? (9)

In the European Parliament, on the other hand, PAFF’s position did not draw applause. While a few French MEPs had previously sympathized with the ‘Big Food & BEUC‘ position, the ban on the use of natural plant ingredients in meats has stirred the ire of British MEP John Procter. Who, in Written Question 4.2.19, asked the Commission to clarify its intentions regarding the use in meat products of ingredients of natural origin. (10) These include the examples of mustard, lemon juice and vinegar powder to which generations of consumers have survived, without waiting for Efsa evaluations.

Happiness in moments, future uncertain

PAFF’s interpretation is bound to fall like the nitrite-laden ‘bolas de toro‘ so dear to the Commission and the industrial giants of Northern Europe:

– under the axe of the Court of Justice if any national court has occasion to raise a preliminary question with the courts in Luxembourg. Or,

– In the ‘trilateral’ system (corporate-state dispute settlement court, ‘

Investment Court System

‘) provided for under the CETA agreement

. The complaint of a Canadian ‘naturist’ charcuterie maker will be enough to challenge the absurdity of the Brussels, Berlin and Copenhagen theorems. In fact, Canadian legislation allows the use of functional plant extracts, provided that they do not carry high nitrite/nitrate contents and that consumer information is correct, (11) or even

– through an industrious repentance of the next European commissioner. Who, however the elections go, can only be better than Vytenis Andriukaitis. (12) Hope survives, even the worst Commission of all time.

Dario Dongo


(1) V.

(2) Cf. ‘Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health‘, 14.12.06, e 19.5.10,

(3) Cf.

(4) See Court of Justice of the EU, Third Chamber, Case.

C-113/15, judgment 22.9.16,;jsessionid=9ea7d0f130d63059ab0ab8bd4fcbab29f78d347e6876.e34KaxiLc3eQc40LaxqMbN4Pah4Qe0?text=&docid=183706&pageIndex=0&doclang=en&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=271033

(5) ‘

Guidance notes on the classification of food extracts with coloring properties

– The guidance document is currently being reviewed by the Commission services‘. Document disappeared from the page, so much for the transparency of the administrative acts of the European Commission. V.

(6) See BEUC, Financial Information,

(7) See statements by BEUC at the plenary meeting of the ‘

Advisory Group on Food Chain, Animal and Plant Health

‘, 27.4.18, p. 19,

(8) BEUC position on the UTPs directive (‘

Unfair Trading Practices


(9) Monique Goyens and the ‘

Open Society Foundation


. Brief mentions of George Soros and the Bilderberg club on


(10) See written question MEP John Ptocter (UK, ECR Group) to the European Commission, 4.2.19,

(11) Canada, the rules on meat and meat products

(12) Some mention of the serious omissions and various bluffs of the ‘useless commissioner’ in previous articles