Europe’s premier food industry body, FoodDrinkEurope (FDE), is backing next week’s European Parliament (EP) vote on the controversial 222-strong health claim register, as opponents rally last-minute veto support.
FDE called on members of the EP Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) to reject an objection to the register, tabled at its previous meeting. If the objection is rejected on March 21, it is likely the full 736-member EP will pass the register into law the following week.
While acknowledging neither the list, nor the process itself, was perfect, FDE said the vote was “an important step” and should be supported.
Most observers believe the objection will fail as there is an increasing level of fatigue with the regulation and its vagaries among MEPs, who would rather vote it onwards in its current form than begin any kind of return to the drawing board.
Those like the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) that would like to see the register scrapped and revised, were dealt a blow in recent days as Czech MEP and ENVI member, Pavel Poc, withdrew his veto support. His party’s voting intentions are believed to have played a part in Poc’s apparent flip-flop.
“The process has been complex and lengthy, but agreement on 222 health claims is an important step in the process towards the adoption of a final list of approved health claims permitted throughout the EU market,” FDE said.
“Moving forward, FoodDrinkEurope continues to reiterate the need for improved dialogue with and guidance from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concerning the submission of future health claims applications, creating more certainty for food business operators investing in research and development in this respect.“
Even staunch opponent, ANH, acknowledged the battle to win the vote would be difficult, if not impossible, as it dispatched a ‘last-push’ position paper to MEPs today.
“Most MEPs with whom we’ve spoken seem to understand that there are a rash of problems with the Regulation, and in particular over EFSA’s methods of assessment of health claims,” said Adam Smith, ANH science and communications officer, who has spent much of the last month in Brussels lobbying MEPs.
“But they now seem to be fed up with it and many seem to want to push it through, saying that it can be fixed once the highly deficient preliminary list of permitted health claims has been signed off by the Parliament."
“We feel they would be doing their constituencies a disservice if they just rubber-stamp such a problematic piece of European law in its current form. More appropriate implementation of the Regulation would have great potential to help deal with the major underlying health problems in European society, which are linked to inappropriate diets and nutrient intake.”
The group’s executive and scientific director, Robert Verkerk PhD, added: “MEPs such as Marian Harkin have expressed clearly that the health claims Regulation won’t have the effects originally intended when the Parliament first approved the Regulation back in 2006. It has been taken off-course by a range of interests, and the complexities of trying to apply a one-size-fits-all scientific approach to the complex, changing and inevitably incomplete science of nutrition.”
“We have clearly set out the problems—as well as the solutions—in our position paper, released today,” continued Dr Verkerk.
“We believe it would be deeply irresponsible of MEPs to vote through the proposed list of permitted claims under the assumption that the problems can be fixed after the list has been implemented. The passage of the list will make all unauthorised general claims illegal within 6 months."
"The histories of both the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority tells us that neither are at all likely to change their approach. If MEPs want to create a fair and proportionate Regulation, as originally intended, they have no alternative but to support the objection and a veto of the proposed list.”