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MEPs vote against amended nutrition claims, food sector rallies

By Jane Byrne , 31-Jan-2012
Last updated on 31-Jan-2012 at 15:50 GMT

MEPs have rejected the revised nutrition claims list recently adopted by the European Commission, a move which could be detrimental for reformulation efforts in the food sector says a trade body.

Brussels-based industry representative body, FoodDrinkEurope (FDE), said it strongly regrets the 'negative outcome' of the vote today in the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee on the amended nutrition annex to the health claims Regulation.

The proposal introduces two new nutrition claims into the Annex of EC Regulation 1924/2006 – namely, the ‘Now contains X% less’ claim as well as the ‘No added salt /sodium’ claim.

A parliamentary communications spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com that 45 MEPs voted in favour of the objection to the Commission's proposals, while 15 vote against and three MEPs abstained.

The food industry lobbyists are now urging members of parliament to vote in favour of the revised nutrition claims list when voting at plenary on Thursday, saying a negative vote at this stage would be “bad for consumers and for business”.

“Food operators strongly support the use of nutrition claims ‘on pack’ to ensure that consumers are informed of a specific nutritional benefit or a nutritional improvement that has been made to a recipe (often via voluntary reformulation efforts),” said FoodDrinkEurope.

The trade body argues that if today’s vote by the ENVI committee is confirmed in the EP plenary session on 2 February, consumers would thus not be informed of the benefits of incremental nutritional changes or improvements to products.

As food operators would have less possibility to communicate their reformulation efforts, stressed the lobbyists, they would be discouraged to invest in costly R&D and innovation techniques for the European market.

Misleading to consumers?

At the ENVI debate yesterday, said the parliamentary communications spokersperson, MEPs spoke both in favour and against a veto of the Commission proposal but they were not divided along political group lines “as they often are on these kinds of debates.”

He said there were differences of opinion within the political groups including the two biggest - European People’s Party (EPP) and the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament (S & D).

Those wanting to veto the proposal said that allowing an additional label of "15% less sugar" for example could be misleading or confusing for consumers because of the other claims that are currently allowed - e.g. how would a consumer compare that to a "reduced sugar" label, which - under the rule - should refer to a much high reduction?

Some MEPs argued that a high fat product could easily reduce fat content by 15% and still be a high fat, unhealthy product, while appearing to claim otherwise.

Those in favour of the amendments to the nutrition annex of the health claims Regulation said that it could encourage the food industry to reduce salt, sugar, and fat content in their products step by step and that reformulating products more dramatically is not easy due to consumers being used to a certain product's taste.

At present, the ‘Reduced in X’ claim permits food manufacturers to communicate about reductions in a nutrient compared with a range of foods in the same category over a period of time.

FDE argues that the introduction of a ‘Now contains X% less’ claim would offer new possibilities to food manufacturers to communicate incremental nutritional changes made to their products to the consumer by comparing old and new recipes.

“Technological constraints to rolling out these smaller, step-wise reformulations are important to consider in this lengthy and costly process, not to mention the importance of gradually familiarising consumers to the new ‘improved’ taste,” said the trade body.

Commission backs incremental reformulation

Frederic Vincent, the spokesperson for DG Sanco, the Health and Consumer Policy directorate at the European Commission, told this publication last week that an incremental approach to food and drink reformulation such as proposed under the new ‘now contains x% less’ claim is in line with the viewpoint of the EU platform for action on diet, physical activity and health.

It also resonates, he added, with the Second WHO European Action Plan on Food and Nutrition Policy.

Vincent said that modest reductions are more feasible and achievable by “more operators”.

And, he argues “A wider range of reformulated products with such modest improvements but acceptable by more consumers could become available and therefore lead to a bigger impact in term of public health, compared with the 'light' products which are consumed by a limited [number of] consumers.”

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