The European Council has adopted a regulation aimed at harmonising the substantially diverging national rules on the authorisation and use of smoke flavourings.

Smoke flavourings are used to impart a smoky flavour to foods such as meat, fish or snacks. They are produced by condensing fresh smoke in water, after which the condensed smoke is purified. Because of the purification process, the use of smoke flavourings is generally considered to be less of a health concern than the traditional smoking process.

The regulation enters into force 20 days after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. Member States have to apply the new rules within the next 18 months, so at the latest in the beginning of 2005.

"I am very pleased with the adoption of these safety provisions for smoke flavours", said David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. "The aim of this legislation is to put consumer safety first while at the same time solving the problems of diverging national rules that manufacturers currently face in marketing their products."

A wide range of different smoke flavourings are produced from smoke condensates. The Scientific Committee on Food (SCF), an independent committee that advised the Commission on questions concerning consumer health and food safety, concluded that the existing multitude of smoke flavourings are based on only a limited number of commercially available smoke condensates. The SCF therefore concluded that toxicological evaluation should focus on these condensates rather than on the multitude of derived smoke flavourings.

Based on this advice, the new regulation establishes a procedure for the safety assessment and authorisation of smoke condensates. To apply for an authorisation of a smoke condensate, the producer will need to provide detailed information on the production method as well as the further steps in the production of derived smoke flavourings. Furthermore, information will have to be provided on the intended uses in or on specific food or food categories, chemical specifications, toxicological studies and validated methods for sampling and detection.

The current situation in EU Member States concerning the authorisation of smoke flavourings is diverse. Some Member States have a very strict authorisation procedure, while others have none at all.