Frustration at the inability of European Union lawmakers to decide on nutrient profiling rules made unusual bedfellows of health NGOs and Big Food representatives, who have agreed the EU would be better to borrow a model already in use than pursue its cripplingly convoluted calculations.
The Nutrition and Lifestyle conference in Brussels yesterday heard the rather unusual accord of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and PepsiCo agreeing that enough was enough with novel food deliberations – the time had arrived to select a model to give certainty to the type of products that may bear health claims.
This was especially the case with the finalisation of the nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) general function list imminent, said Natalia Douek, regulatory affairs director at PepsiCo Europe.
“After so long the list has been finalised and we would hate to see it undermined by ongoing debate on nutrient profiles,” she said.
The BHF’s Health Promotion Research Group director Mike Rayner said EU authorities should bite the bullet and adopt a model like the ones in France or Australia that had proven successful.
Rayner acknowledged that nutrient profiles have many different uses, and that a model that may be focused on health claims may not be appropriate for setting thresholds for children’s marketing, for example, but what was needed now was precisely a health claims-oriented model.
“We need to make the distinction between the model and the application of the model,” Rayner said. “We need to come up with options for models. France and Australia both have good models designed for regulating health claims.”
He said a model that focused on salt, sugar and fat could serve that purpose although he favoured the inclusion of other ‘positive’ nutrients like fibre.
Douek emphasised the innovation-killing effect of the regulatory ambiguity that surrounds nutrient profiling rules – or their absence.
“We don’t necessarily want to make a claim on every product we sell,” she said. “We need a level playing field. The profiles need to be scientifically based but they need to be designed for claims to ensure that products don’t mislead.”
Douek welcomed the potential for an economic impact assessment of nutrient profiling mooted by Paola Testori Coggi, the chief of the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumer, at the same conference on Tuesday.
“It may allow us all to get around the table. We need a level playing field.”
Another participant in the discussion, Joao Breda, manager of the Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Programme at the World Health Organization (WHO), said the European nutrient profiling debate was resonating globally.
“What happens in Europe is very influential. But nutrient profiling is not an end in itself,” he said. “We see it as a tool.”