European industry and consumer groups have broadly backed draft amendments to the much-debated specialised foods Directive known as PARNUTs.
Yesterday Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in the Environment Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) unanimously backed the draft forward by Liberal Belgian MEP and rapporteur, Frédérique Ries by 62 votes to zero.
"A very specialist area..."
Roger Clarke, of the European Dietetic Food Industry Association (IDACE), told FoodNavigator.com that while this vote was simply a first leg, it was an important one.
In general, he said the vote gives a clear signal to the European Commission and Council that the initial proposal was over-simplistic.
“It is a very specialist area that has developed into a strong market,” Clarke said, noting any changes need to be approached on a case-by-case basis, rather than a general focus.
The PARNUTs food sector represents between 1 to 2% of the European food market and is pegged at around €24bn.
The proposal will have implications for industry with manufacturers needing to reconsider claims and labelling.
Clarke said a transition period of between 3 and 4 years would be sufficient for companies to make the relevant changes to adhere to the new framework, and would take into account shelf life of current products to ensure minimal food wastage.
“This is a relatively complex change and if this is going to be an efficient, effective and helpful legislative change, it’s going to take time,” Clarke said. “It needs to be done slowly and steadily, otherwise it will become complicated and costly.”
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) saw many positives including a revision of ‘toddler milk’ marketing and an overall push for clearer labelling.
The draft stipulated that milk formulae for babies up to 12 months, including ‘follow-on’ formulae, should not include images that ‘idealise the use’ of such products, a move Clarke said is an industry concern.
“We understand why there are very strict prohibitions on infant formulae, but imposing legislation on milk products for infants 6 months and above doesn’t seem to be a logical move,” he said.
MEPs on the committee have called for a review of growing-up milks (GUMs) by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and suggest new rules be implemented if needed, and this review was welcomed by both the IDACE and BEUC.
The committee report raised concerns on the increasing number of food products with slimming claims and said that ‘low calorie diets’ (800-1200 calories per day) and ‘very low calorie diets’ (400-800 calories) should be covered within the new rules.
This move was welcomed by IDACE but not the BEUC, whose spokesperson, Jonathan La Morte, said: “We are disappointed that the ENVI Committee decided to open the door to slimming foods.”
It had lobbied for ‘low calorie diet’ foods to continue to be regulated under the 2006 nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).
The proposal recommends special gluten labeling rules, with foods containing less than 100mg gluten per kg labeled as ‘very low gluten content’ and food with less than 20mg gluten per kg as ‘gluten free’.
Not content with this, IDACE called for further clarifications within the gluten-free sector and a need to distinguish foods containing low gluten from specialised products for coeliac patients.
“Manufacturers can do so much to self-legislate, but I think it’s up to legislators, given an opportunity like this, to ensure they safeguard the key people affected which is those consumers diagnosed with special dietary requirements, such as coeliacs,” Clarke said.
Clarke added that one further industry concern, should the new framework be implemented, would be a need to ensure there is still space for innovation.
The PARNUTs (foods for particular nutritional purposes) Directive that governs labelling in foods such as dietetic, sports and infant foods has been put up for review in a bid to provide better information to consumers, that is “accurate, clear and easy to understand.”