Graham Keen, the executive director of the UK Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA), said his group, along with EHPM, the pan-European federation the HFMA is a member of, was expanding lobbying efforts to draw more Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) into the debate.
“The lobbying is intensifying and the response has been very positive as there are many national MPs and MEPs who are trying to understand some of these complex issues for the first time,” he said. “We have been trying to use concrete examples like rejections for fibre and prunes and glucosamine to explain the rights and wrongs of the legislation.”
In a statement issued last week, Keen said: “The industry and other key stakeholders are perplexed about the way this legislation is about to be implemented and it is time the threat of serious and very negative consequences are acknowledged. The proposed implementation of the regulation defies common sense and would actually fail to meet key objectives of the regulation - consumer protection, legal certainty, fair competition, encouraging innovation and protection of SME’s.”
The European Commission draft regulation that will send the 2758-claim strong register to EU law books is due for consideration at an EC standing committee meeting on December 5, after which it could be sent to the European Parliament (EP).
MEP lobbying efforts aside, Keen said there remains so much ambiguity around the register, the committee is unlikely to act.
“There is still too much work that remains to be done,” he said. “So we think it is premature for any proposal to be passed to the Parliament. We want to see it deferred.”
Another UK-based group that has been intensifying lobbying efforts is the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), which issued a statement today urging MEPs to block the register if and when it arrives at the EP in Strasbourg.
ANH scientific and chief executive Robert Verkerk, PhD, told NutraIngredients he had spent this week in Brussels meeting with MEPs, and was encouraged by the response of those concerned that just 224 of 2758 claims would be permitted in the EU, for just 70 nutrients.
He said MEPs such as Ireland's Marian Harkin (pictured) were prepared to lodge a formal objection to the register if and when it came to the Parliament, which could prompt a veto of the regulation.
“MEPs are learning about the list and the fact that most botanicals and some probiotics are not on it and may be assessed differently at some later date, and wondering why it is split like that and whether that is fair.”
Verkerk added in the ANH statement: “There are so many unanswered questions, that to mandate this half-baked list into law, while at the same time banning rejected claims, would not only be fool-hardy, it would have long-term effects on future generations and be against the public interest.”
The ANH is also preparing a detailed breakdown of the claims on the register and the ANH view of its flaws which would be sent to every MEP by Christmas.
“We all have a problem with cowboys in the food industry who make outlandish claims that are not supported by science – and this is why I, and the majority of other MEPs, supported the regulation when we voted for it in 2006m,” Harkin said.
“But I’m now very concerned about just how few claims have gone through. For many consumers trying to ensure their families eat as healthily as possible, it would be very confusing if these were the only ones allowed. They’ll see the same few claims repeated over and over again on some foods, but so many others will be claim free.”
Harkin concluded: “It’s difficult to accept that among the thousands of known beneficial food ingredients, nutritional science supports the use of only 70. The Parliament will have to think very carefully about how it acts when it comes to voting on this general function health claims list because the implications are so far-reaching.”