What is the stiffening process and why are EU changes to the laws around it so controversial?

Editorial Staff

Members of the European Parliament voted on April 11 to advance a controversial change to the rules governing how smoked salmon is processed – despite significant concerns from the industry.

The European Parliament has rejected objections to a proposed amendment affecting the processing of smoked salmon within the EU, specifically the “stiffening” process.

This decision allows the European Commission to proceed with implementing the new rule.

There are concerns that the new regulatory proposal by the European Commission could disrupt this critical industry, potentially affecting the entire European supply chain and threatening thousands of jobs.

Salmon processing is a cornerstone of Europe’s fish industry, providing over 300 million portions of salmon-based products to consumers annually.

What is the stiffening process?

The focal point of the controversy is the “stiffening” process in salmon processing. After fresh salmon is filleted, skinned, and smoked, it undergoes stiffening, where temperatures are reduced between -4°C and -14°C, primarily for easier slicing and as a crucial safeguard against harmful bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes.

This step not only facilitates processing but also significantly enhances food safety, reducing potential waste.

Historically, the duration of the stiffening process has been determined by sectoral guidelines under HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) standards, which ensure flexibility necessary for large-scale operations while maintaining strict food safety compliance. These standards are mandatory under EU hygiene regulations.

However, in a move in December, the European Commission proposed a Delegated Regulation amending EU law on the hygiene of food of animal origin. This amendment seeks to impose a strict 96-hour limit on the stiffening process, a significant change from the variable times previously dictated by industry practices, which – the industry argues – have long been proven safe and effective.

This proposed time limit was set without endorsement from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), raising significant concerns regarding its scientific basis and potential impact on public health.

Polish processors express alarm over EU’s new rule change for smoked salmon

No scientific evaluation for the change

Industry experts and major European fish processors have voiced concerns, highlighting that the European Commission drafted this legislation without consulting EFSA. Independent studies, like those from the Silliker Food Science Center, have shown no safety risks associated with longer stiffening periods. Despite this, the European Commission has not sought further engagement with EFSA or the industry during the consultation process of the draft legislation.

This lack of thorough scientific evaluation from EFSA before imposing such a rigid timeframe is alarming. By not basing the regulation on robust scientific evidence, there is a risk of compromising food safety and quality, increasing food waste, and not providing a transitional period for the industry to adjust, which could destabilize established processing practices and endanger thousands of jobs.

Poland and Denmark, which process about 60% of the smoked salmon in the EU market and are key markets for Norwegian salmon exports, are particularly impacted. This regulation could alter the operational dynamics for these major processors, alongside others in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, reducing their competitiveness and sustainability.


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