Subscriber OnlyPolitics

Smoky bacon flavouring ban: Coveney lobbied EU over ‘financial implications’ for Irish firms

Kerry Group, which is one of the big players in smoked flavourings, claimed the changes ‘would impact’ more than €30bn worth of food products

The Government raised concerns that a recent European Union ban on certain types of smoke flavouring added to ham, rashers and smoky bacon crisps could lead to hundreds of products being discontinued, correspondence shows.

Last month, the EU approved a proposal to phase out various smoke flavourings currently added to meats and other food, such as sauces and crisps. Records show in the weeks beforehand, then minister for enterprise Simon Coveney lobbied for food producers to be given several years to stop using the current flavouring method.

In a March 27th letter to Stella Kyriakides, EU commissioner for food safety, Mr Coveney said industry had warned the decision could lead to the “discontinuation of a wide range of products currently on the market”.

There would be a “significant” impact on Irish food producers, particularly those in the meat-processing sector. “It is estimated that up to 300 products will be affected, with one individual company advising that 27 of their products would be affected,” he said.


Previous EU authorisation for the smoke flavourings had been rolled over for a 10-year period, which was due to expire. The decision to not renew permission for the flavourings had been proposed by the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, and approved by countries, including Ireland, at committee level.

The move was taken after the EU food safety authority concluded toxicity concerns about the flavourings were “either confirmed or can’t be ruled out”. The current process, which food producers state is healthier than traditional smoking, involves purifying smoke and removing harmful components such as tar and ash, before the flavouring is added to food.

Producers will have two years to phase out the current method for adding smoke flavouring to crisps, sauces, soups and snacks, with a five-year window to stop using the method for flavouring ham, fish and cheese.

An analysis by Teagasc, the agriculture development agency, indicated that coming up with a new “replacement additive” to give products a similar taste would be “an uncertain and complex process”, Mr Coveney said. The semi-State agency had advised “that it would be almost impossible for industry to replace the smoke flavourings within the next three to five years”.

Mr Coveney told the EU commissioner it was “imperative” the period to phase out the current method was long enough to allow the sector develop new ways of adding the flavouring to food. A short transition period would have “significant” financial implications for Irish businesses and the availability of products, he wrote.

His letter, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, said the Department of Health, who were leading on the policy area, had requested “a minimum transition period” of two years.

Kerry Group previously warned the EU decision would cause “major economic harm” to the Irish food sector. In a January 30th letter to then taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Tralee-based company said it estimated up to 40 per cent of the ham and bacon sold in Ireland depended on the flavouring method. Kerry Group, which is one of the big players in the smoked flavouring market, claimed the changes “would impact well over €30 billion worth of food products across the EU”.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times