The EU’s regulation of the food industry could lead manufacturers to shift their R&D investment outside the bloc, UK food manufacturers have warned.

Jim Moseley, president of UK industry body The Food and Drink Federation, said it had been “difficult to innovate in Europe”.

Moseley, who is also MD of General Mills’ operations in the UK and Ireland, said the time it took to get products to market in the EU compared unfavourably to other markets.

“It’s quite difficult to innovate in Europe. In some instances, it’s very difficult to bring products to market. A perfect example would be plant sterols. Companies have spent fortunes on proving they have a positive impact on cholesterol. Despite all that positive research, when it comes to bringing the product to market, it took one day in South Africa, three months in the US and almost three years in Europe,” Moseley told a conference in Brussels held by European food industry association FoodDrinkEurope.

“It becomes extremely costly, it’s unclear whether you bring products to market and I think what you’ll find is a lot of big companies will move their innovation resources outside of Europe.”

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Moseley was speaking at FoodDrinkEurope’s biennial conference, which this focused on how Europe’s food industry could drive a recovery in the region, which has been hit by the general global downturn and the eurozone crisis.

Earlier yesterday (17 October), the European Commission defended its regulation of the food industry and in particular its rules on the health claims food companies can use on their products.

Paola Testori Coggi, director general of the Commission’s agency focusing on health and consumers, acknowledged the health claims rules were “very strict” but added: “This gives clarity and establishes a level playing field and great rewards for the genuine innovation that are able to get their claims authorised.”

However, elsewhere, concern was expressed that EU rules could stifle innovation and hinder the industry’s growth and attempts to grab a share of booking emerging markets. Maurice House, minister counsellor on Food and Agriculture for the US Mission to the EU, said there was a “fear” Europe could become a “food museum”.

Reflecting on House’s comments, Moseley added: “Maurice talked about Europe becoming a food museum and that is a major concern. We seem to be slow at adopting new technology and there may be a slight lack of trust between regulators and the industry.”