Food policy expert fears impact of nutrient profiling

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrient profiling, Nutrition

The European Union's (EU) nutrient profiling system - one of the
most controversial elements of Europe's proposed health claims law
- could give member states a tool to discriminate between foods, a
food policy expert has said.

Miguel da Silva, adviser at Brussels food law consultancy EAS, said that many in the food industry fear it will open the door for regulators to treat certain foods in a similar way to alcohol and tobacco. Nutrient profiling, also known as article 4, would prohibit health claims on any products high in salt, sugar or fat (saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids). The system should be in place by the beginning of January 2009. The concept has been vigorously attacked by many in the food industry who say that foods currently accepted as healthy, such as margarine with phytosterols, calcium-enriched fruit juice or iodised salt, would gain an unfavourable nutrient profile under this law. In a podcast on the consultancy's website, da Silva asked: "What would stop Member States from using this profiling system to ban for example certain products from vending machines in schools or in public places; to restrict all advertising on certain foods, or to impose a 'fat tax' on certain products?""What would stop this system from one day treating certain foodstuffs in a similar way to alcohol or tobacco?" ​ Nutrient profiling is seen by many EU legislators as the new regulatory panacea to fight obesity, having been introduced to address the European Commission's concerns that health claims on foods high in fat, sugar or salt would lead to more consumption and contribute to rising obesity levels. The European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) is currently researching the scientific feasibility of nutrient profiling for the Commission, and da Silva stated that it will be fascinating to see how EFSA justifies what is a healthy foodstuff and what is not, scientifically. He also stated that there are currently no indications as to how nutrient profiles will be established. "What we have for the moment is a long list of questions,"​ he said. "Should profiles be established across all foods or per food category? And how would you determine the relevant food categories? What nutrients should be taken into account? What levels of nutrients should be taken into account? What profiling system should be used? The list continues…."​ Da Silva also noted that nutrient profiling will also be used as criteria for consideration when restricting the fortification of certain products. "While the institutions were negotiating the claims Regulation, they were also discussing the Regulation for adding vitamins, minerals and certain other substances to foods,"​ he stated. "So because nutrient profiles were being established under the claims Regulation anyway, the legislators decided to also include it as criteria when considering possible restrictions on the addition of nutrients to foods."​ In April, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfD) defended proposals about nutrient profiling. "The concept for nutrient profiles as the pre-requisite for health claims should be sensible and practicable and should not merely create new bureaucratic obstacles,"​ said the BfD. The institute also stated that the concept leaves room for exceptions to the rule for specific foods and food categories related to the importance of the food for diet, with no need to develop nutrient profiles for unprocessed foods like meat, fish, milk, fruit or vegetables. These foods may still be sold with health claims. The institute reiterated that the impending health claims regulations would harmonise nutrition and health claims across the EU, which is likely to facilitate the classification of the products by the official food control authorities.

Related topics: Regulation & Policy, Suppliers

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