Nutrient profiles define what products can make claims relating to nutritional content, based on their levels of fat, sugar or salt. The idea is that a product that is exceptionally high in one of these nutrients that should be consumed in moderation, it may not be labelled a ‘low in fat’, say, or ‘low in sugar’. Profiles would also be used in the new health claims regulation, as products exceeding levels of these nutrients would not be able to make positive claims.
Rapporteur for the Parliament’s Envi committee deleted the requirement for nutrient profiles to be established in her amendments, on which Envi voted in March. The amended draft is having its first hearing at the Parliamentary session in Strasbourg this week, and MEPs will cast their votes tomorrow.
The European Heart Network has sent an open letter to MEPs asking them to reject the removal of nutrient profiles. The network’s director Susanne Løgstrup wrote:
“Without nutrient profiles, products that are high in fat, sugar or salt may be able to bear claims and this misleads people as to the true nature of the product. Considering the crushing burden of chronic diseases in Europe, it is vital that only products that are overall healthy should be allowed to bear claims.
“Nutrient profiles play a vital role in guiding people towards the healthier option. The absence of nutrient profiles undermines the provision of proper information on product benefits to consumers.”
She argues that nutrient profiling is well-recognised in the scientific literature, and many models exist on how to establish them. “They show that nutrient profiling models that are based on both positive and negative nutrients provide a realistic picture of the nutrition quality of a product.”
The EHN is also asking MEPs to sign a written declaration on limiting trans fat levels in food products to 2 per cent, as research has indicated that a 2 per cent increase in trans fat consumption is associated with a 23 per cent increase in heart disease.
Shared views, different views
The EHN is not alone in its view that nutrient profiles are important.
Sue Davies, chief policy advisor at UK consumer group Which? told FoodNavigator.com last month “We obviously think it is really important that nutrient profiles are retained in the health and nutrition claims legislation to prevent consumers from being misled by 'health' claims on unhealthy foods.”
However the dairy industry has tended to be anti-nutrient profiling on the grounds that some dairy products could be barred from making claims due to high natural fat content, even though they are very rich nutrient sources.
This has caused the dairy sector to take a stance against the idea of traffic light labelling, a labelling scheme based on nutrient profiling that gives a red, amber or green rating to the nutrients that should be consumed in moderation.
After this week’s vote by the Parliament, the European Council will have to adopt its position and the proposal will then return to the Environment committee.
It could be years before the information on food packaging actually changes however. MEPs said larger companies should have three years to put the new rules into action, but companies with annual turnover or balance sheet under €5m would have five years.