Liberal Belgian MEP and rapporteur, Frédérique Ries, concluded in a recent European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) report that amendments can help ensure the quality and safety of infant food products in the EU.
“Infants, children under three years of age and people for whom a special diet is vital on medical grounds clearly require special attention and uniform treatment within the EU,” she wrote in the report.
The PARNUTS (Foods for particular nutritional purposes) Directive that governs labelling in foods such as dietetic, sports and infant foods is up for review with the European Commission stating it wants to, “provide better information to consumers” with amendments to a piece of legislation that first entered EU law books in 1977.
The proposed amendments will reduce the coverage of PARNUTS to abolish the notion of dietetic foods as these have been cannibalised by functional food offerings administered by other legislation including gluten-free foods, sports foods and slimming products.
Not far enough
But they also seek to, “strengthen provisions onfoods for vulnerable population groups that need particular protection e.g. infants and children up to 3 years old.”
This aim has won the support of UK pro-breast milk group, Baby Milk Action (BMA), although its policy director, Patty Rundall, OBE, told NutraIngredients this morning that the EC proposed amendments did not go far enough.
“We need to know that the procedures are as safe as possible and these amendments are a step in the right direction but they do not go far enough,” Rundall said. “We want more than the EC wants.”
Rundall’s group would like to see stricter scrutiny of the safety and quality of some constituents before they are approved for use in infant formulas and follow-on milks, and believe any PARNUTS amendments could spur changes to EU Directives specifically governing infant formulas and follow-on milks.
In league with others like the UK-based Baby Feeding Law Group, and the International Baby Food Action Network, the BMA has long been a critic of EU laws they say are too lax and out of step with United Nations infant food guidelines.
They are particularly opposed to the discriminatory addition of certain ingredients that differentiate products, believing that if a nutrient is scientifically backed to provide a baby health benefit, it should be made mandatory in all products.
In this sense they are concerned that the EC proposals seek to, “keep current compositional and labelling rules for infant and follow-on formulae, processed cereal-based foods and other baby foods and foods for special medical purposes”.
Growing up milk
There is also concern about how “growing up milks” – those targeted at older infants and children – will be classified, with the EC’s Basil Mathioudakis hinting that they will require validation of their ‘growing up’ benefits under the 2006 EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).
Swedish Green MEP Carl Schylter, who also sat on the PARNUTS ENVI committee, called growing up milk “an absurd concept....it is cows’ milk with additives”.
Last year the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) found protein manipulation and addition of fatty acids, vitamins and minerals in growing up milks did not deliver nutritional bonuses to infants compared to normal dairy milk.