Irish MEP Marian Harkin said the European nutrition industry must look forward after a European Parliamentary committee yesterday rejected a bid to overturn a controversial, 222-strong health claims list.
“This Regulation will have serious consequences for small manufacturers of health food products in particular those who do not have the resources to fund Randomised Control Trials in the healthy population to back-up their claims,” Harkin said.
“Only the larger companies will have the resources to provide the type of evidence required by the Commission and this will have a significant effect on smaller manufacturers in particular.”
While Harkin acknowledged, "It is very difficult to know where to go from here," she said a pending report on the regulation from the European Ombudsman offered some hope amid the blow of the rejected veto.
“I wish the news was better on this and while the effects will not be immediate, none the less we know they are coming down the track and even at this late stage we have to see what options are available to us,” she said.
“It is worth noting that there is a complaint with the European Ombudsman and I will be very interested to see his substantive response. While he has no power to order the Commission to change the Regulation a positive response from him would strengthen our hand.”
“Genuine health claims”
If the full European Parliament (EP) does not block the regulation by April 27, the nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR), article 13 list is likely to become law by the end of May. Six months after that, products bearing prohibited claims can be stripped from shelves across the 27 member states of the EU.
The motion to veto the list in the EP Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) failed by 15 votes – with 22 in favour of the veto, 37 against, with original objector, the Czech Socialist MEP Pavel Poc, abstaining.
Europe’s biggest food group, FoodDrinkEurope, along with the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC) welcomed the passing of the list as a moment when healthy food claim-making moved up a gear in Europe, giving more surety to consumers in a more unified market.
“The vote will stop consumers from being misled by unsubstantiated, exaggerated or untruthful claims about foodstuffs,” said Monique Goyens, director-general of BEUC.
“Only genuine health claims will be allowed to remain on the market.”
But other groups are concerned about a regulation that to date has condemned about 2000 claims including the likes of soy, probiotics and lutein.
Alliance for Natural Health executive and scientific director, Dr Robert Verkerk PhD, pointed to the level of opposition and said the fight against the regulation would go on.
“The push from Big Food, headed by FoodDrinkEurope, was just too strong,” he said. “But the fact that nearly 40% of the committee voted in favour of a veto reflects the concerns that many MEPs have over the Regulation.”
ANH, he said, would, ”persist in doing whatever we can to ensure the best possible outcome for one of the most poorly conceived pieces of European food law ever bestowed on the people of Europe.”
Typical lines of support were expressed by German MEP Dagmar Roth-Behrendt of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), who said: “The list we have is a good list as these health claims are justifiable.”
Looking forward, Dr Verkerk added: “Our main focus now needs to be on the rejected claims list, EFSA’s methods of scientific assessment, especially as they relate to botanicals, and implementation strategies of individual member states.”
Of some celebrated rejections, Harkin noted: “Everybody knows that prunes help keep you regular but the E.U. Commission is not yet convinced. Cranberry juice is widely used for helping in the treatment of urinary infections, yet it got the thumbs-down. Many many people use Glucosamine to assist with joint health and mobility, it also got the thumbs down as did magnesium which can help to prevent cramps.”