The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has indicated key functional food groups may be exempt from potentially draconian nutrient profiling regulations being debated within the European Union and due to be written into law by January 2009.
Nutrient profiling is based on the idea that foods high in fat, salt, sugar and certain other nutrients should be prevented from bearing health claims even if they also contain healthy ingredients that would otherwise qualify them to make such claims.
EFSA's Scientific Panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies (NDA) stated yesterday that, "These exemptions, if necessary, could take the form of specific profiles to ensure that some food products in these groups are eligible to bear claims."
These groups include vegetable oils; spreadable fats; dairy products; cereals and cereal products; fruits and vegetables and fruit/vegetable products; meat and meat products; fish and fish products; and non-alcoholic beverages.
They are considered eligible for exemption because their health benefits outweigh the fact they might be high in one of the designated 'unhealthy' ingredients. Fruit juices that are high in fructose or high sugar probiotic yoghurts are examples of products that might fall foul of the law.
The European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA) said food supplements should also be exempt.
"Typically, food supplements are marketed in the form of capsules, tablets, pills, and represent a maximum weight of two grams," said ERNA chairman, Gert Krabichler. "Such forms do not contain significant quantities of energy, fat, sugar, and salt, and therefore do not add to the daily energy-intake of the consumer."
He said nutrient profiling was irrelevant to food supplements and should not be used to prevent them making health claims, "while regular foods that contribute substantially more of these nutrients in terms of daily intake would still be permitted to make claims."
EFSA singled out sugars as being of "public health importance", noting peculiar consumption patterns within different member states and noted these foods "might be included for particular food groups (e.g. beverages and products such as confectionery that might be consumed with a high frequency)".
"Depending on the scheme adopted, energy density or total fat, as well as other nutrients of public health importance, might also be considered," it stated. The Panel also noted it wanted to avoid "overly complex nutrient profiles."
"These profiles will also help ensure consumers who utilise claims to guide healthy diet choices, and who may perceive foods bearing claims as having a nutritional or health advantage, are not misled as to their overall nutritional value," NDA stated. "The NDA Panel emphasises in its Opinion the scientific limitations inherent in the use of nutrient profiles to classify foods as eligible to bear claims and the need for expert judgment to be applied."
The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries in the EU (CIAA) welcomed the opinion, stating its belief that nutrient profiles should consider whole diets rather than individual nutrients.
The European Salt Producers Association (EUSalt) said it regretted that sodium was listed as a potential nutrient profiling 'bad ingredient', stating "there is no scientific consensus on possible negative impacts of sodium on human health."
EFSA and NDA will continue to consult with industry and member states in the coming months in its role of providing scientific input to legislators.