Nutrition and health claims regulation adopted at last

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Health claims European union

Following months of wrangling and a last minute delay, the new EU
regulation on nutrition and health claims was finally adopted
yesterday by the EU Council of Ministers and looks likely to come
into force next January.

The regulation had been tabled for adoption last month, but had to be withdrawn at the 11th hour when legal teams noticed that it did not contain the new comitology procedure. This hitch caused some concern that the regulation may have to be returned to the drawing board.

In fact, the anticipated months of delay have been avoided as the European Commission, Council and Parliament agreed to adopt the text in its current form - and follow up immediately, today or early next week, with the publication of an amendment introducing the new comitology procedure.

The comitology procedure relates to enacting periods or amendments to agreed legislation that sketched out in the main body of the text, to be drawn up in full at a later date.

In the case of health claims, the main area subject to comitology is nutrient profiling - that is, whether foods containing high levels of substances detrimental to health like saturated fat, sugar or salt may bear health claims relating to beneficial nutrients.

This was one of the main areas of flashpoint between the Council and Parliament, who eventually struck a compromise that allowed the regulation to progress through the rule making process.

It has been envisaged that nutrient profiles be drawn up by an expert working group within a couple of years of the regulation's adoption. Under the old comitology procedure they would then have been approved by a committee made up of the Member States.

But in July this was superceded by the Regulatory Procedure with Scrutiny, under which Parliament has the opportunity to intervene - and potentially reject this compromise with a simple majority vote - a scenario seen as possible since the EPP-ED group, which has a simple majority of Parliament, was opposed to the compromise.

There were fears that inserting the new text would make it necessary to go through conciliation, which would put the whole regulation on the negotiation table once more and could open up old gripes.

Miguel Fernandes da Silva of European Advisory Services told that the amendment will have to go through codecision procedure by the Parliament and Council.

"But as there is a common agreement between the institutions to go very quickly on this issue, the Commission is confident that this amendment will be adopted in only one reading by mid December 2006."

After this, the two texts will be published together in the official journal. Barring no further hiccoughs, the regulation is likely to enter into force in January 2007, and become applicable next July.

The regulation is envisaged to harmonise health claims that can be made on food products throughout the EU.

The Danish and Swedish delegations in the Council voted against the adoption of the claims Regulation and the Irish and Netherlands delegations abstained.

Da Silva said: "These positions could be explained by the fact that these Member States would have liked the text to be 'tougher' as regards, among other things, nutrient profiles."

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