Nutrient profiles were written into the NHCR, the idea being that health claims should only be applied to foods that fit a certain nutrition profile, i.e. not high in fat, sugar or salt. Nine years on and the Commission is yet to establish these profiles, leaving some European Parliament committees to question whether the condition should be scrapped.
The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) voted for this in March and next week the Committee on Legal Affairs will have its say.
The votes came as part of the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), which sought to refine EU regulations and reduce red tape.
In March, ENVI voted 50 to 18 to amend a paragraph which explicitly sought to strike the condition from the regulation. The paragraph called on the Commission to, if appropriate, “eliminate the concept of nutrient profiles”.
The redrafted opinion as a whole was voted in 62 votes in favour, 0 against and 6 abstentions. It said the purpose of informing consumers on fat, sugar and salt content had since been fulfilled by other regulation, namely the Food Information for Consumers (FIC) Regulation which came into force last year.
The 2006 nutrition and health claims regulation read:
“The application of nutrient profiles as a criterion would aim to avoid a situation where nutrition or health claims mask the overall nutritional status of a food product, which could mislead consumers when trying to make healthy choices in the context of a balanced diet.
"Nutrient profiles as provided for in this Regulation should be intended for the sole purpose of governing the circumstances in which claims may be made. They should be based on generally accepted scientific evidence relative to the relationship between diet and health. However, profiles should also allow for product innovation and should take into account the variability of dietary habits and traditions, and the fact that individual products may have an important role in the context of an overall diet.”
The redrafted opinion also called for the Commission to “review the scientific basis of this [health claim] regulation and how useful and realistic it is” given the “serious and persistent problems” with its implementation including problems of distorted competition.
ENVI’s suggestions were passed onto the Legal Affairs Committee, which will have its own vote on 16th June with a motion for a resolution to be voted in the July plenary session of the Parliament in Strasbourg, France, in its 14-17th July sitting.
While these two votes don’t have the power to strike nutrient profiles from the regulation they will be heard as a significant call for action by the Commission, a spokesperson for the Commission told us.
Nutrient profile backing
However, not everyone was calling for the profiles to be deleted. UK Labour MEP and ENVI committee member Glenis Willmott said she, along with the other members of the EU group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), voted against the idea in March.
“Rather than calling for these to be scrapped, we should be demanding that the Commission comes forward with these nutrient profiles as soon as possible so as to ensure that consumers are not being misled," she told NutraIngredients.
Willmott said nutrient profiles would ensure food could not be marketed as healthy when in reality it was high in fat or sugar, for example a sugary cereal fortified with vitamins and iron. At the time she said "ongoing heavy lobbying from the food industry" meant many people had misunderstood what nutrient profiles were meant to be.
She hoped Parliament would "reject this unhelpful amendment".
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has also been campaigning this year for the Commission to push forward with the project and warned that the REFIT programme should not jeopardise regulation designed to protect consumers from spurious claims. The Brussels-based group said the failure to set the promised profiles had seen firms using fortification as a ‘health halo’ over unhealthy foods.
The REFIT programme is part of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s ‘better regulation’ agenda, which seeks to rationalise and streamline EU cross-sector law making.