EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) has eight panels dealing with different aspects of food safety, of which one is dedicated to nutritional aspects including trans fatty acids, upper intake levels of vitamins and minerals, novel foods and allergenic foods labelling.
But in an ideal budgetary climate, the stakeholders would like to see nutrition play an even greater role.
One likely source of work in the nutrition area is over health claims and food fortification, a particularly hotly-debated piece of legislation currently being discussed by the European parliament.
One of the major bones of contention between the Parliament and the Council is the authorisation procedure. Since part of EFSA's role in nutrition is to provide scientific advice and scientific and technical support on human nutrition in relation to EC legislation, this would fall under its remit.
The Parliament is rooting for a notification procedure, which would allow manufacturers to put a product on the market with a specific health claim without receiving authorization in advance. If doubts were raised over scientific basis on the claim, EFSA would then be called on to make a decision. However the Council favours full pre-market approval, which it is expected would be evaluated by EFSA.
Other tasks it is expected EFSA would fulfill, according to the 2006 Management Plan that was approved by the board in December 2005, are: providing guidance and advice on nutrient profiles for foods bearing claims; providing guidance and advice on permitted claims; and developing guidelines for the implementation of preparation and presentation of information necessary to support health claims.
"EFSA has started to take steps to ensure that it is prepared for these tasks when the regulation comes into force whole maintaining dialogue with the legislative institutions on the feasibility of any new tasks," a spokesperson for the agency told NutraIngredients.com.
But she stressed that the view of the stakeholders should not be taken as an indication of the agency's policy. The stakeholders are drawn from organisations that have an interest in EFSA's work, such as NGOs, producers and food industry representatives.
Feedback from last week's platform will be presented to EFSA's management committee at an away-day in London at the end of the month.
However the stakeholders' opinion comes at a time when the budgetary climate is far from ideal: at the end of January EFSA revealed that it could be facing a funding crisis, after the EU Council proposed capping the budget for the 3B heading, under which EFSA falls, at €220 million for the period 2007 to 2013.
The annual budget for 3B was €220 million in 2006 (of which €46.6 million was allocated to EFSA). It was originally forecast that this would increase over time, to €290 million in 2013.
The EU Parliament is expected to take a decision on the budget in this month.
Meanwhile, these funding issues were also discussed at the consultative platform last week, with the consensus that if its budget is cut EFSA will not be able to carry out all the tasks with which it is charged and will therefore have to prioritise.
If the health claims package goes through, the spokesperson said that this will engender a lot of work. It is not yet clear whether any additional funding will be forthcoming to facilitate this.