British MEP Julie Girling is proposing a ‘middle way’ to the European health claims furore. She wants her fellow European Parliamentarians to back the existing work of EFSA and the European Commission, after which the EP’s newly won power to carry out economic impact assessments should be invoked.
The Conservative MEP made the suggestion after a nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) workshop she organised and chaired in the European Parliament’s Brussels base yesterday to educate parliamentarians and others about the regulation, its intricacies, and likely impacts on consumers and industry.
Girling said she would vote in favour of the 222-claim strong, article 13 register on March 21, because, “I think we should approve the claims that have been approved. I see no value at all in throwing claims out because then we are back to square one.”
“But what I did want was to use it as an opportunity to signal to the Commission and EFSA and anybody else that whilst we might be prepared to do that we want to have some serious thinking on what we do next because just to say that something is not proven and therefore it goes away is not going to wash. There has to be a different method.”
Room for revision
In that direction, she said an economic impact assessment, that may take six months to complete, could prompt revisions to the nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) down the road.
“We now have a budget in parliament where we can do our own impact assessments,” she reflected. “And I will certainly be considering putting to the [ENVI] committee chairman that we should do that. Pass this first lot of claims and then do an impact assessment on the whole process so far and see where that takes us, because I think that might take us to having a slightly revised regulation.”
Industry has been calling for such an assessment for a long time, and a privately commissioned one by the European Health Claims Alliance in 2010 concluded the EU supplements market in ‘other substances’ such as probiotics, herbal products and glucosamine would shrink 25% or about €1bn.
Girling said other MEPs, like Ireland’s Marian Harkin and Sir Graham Watson from the UK, were more hardened against the regulation, and more committed to amending it sooner rather than later.
“I think it is a pretty high profile issue and relatively well known. Certainly there is a view among some MEPs that the only way to get any action taken on this is to not approve this list of claims,” she said.
“I understand that but I don’t support that action myself. I tend to think the other way. Let’s get them approved, let’s get the Commission and EFSA work approved and then let’s think about how to go to the next stage.”