ESSNA: Specific sports food laws would ‘hurt rather than help’ in Europe

By Shane STARLING contact

- Last updated on GMT

ESSNA: “These are not specialist products or the preserve of a small group, but ones widely used by the public."
ESSNA: “These are not specialist products or the preserve of a small group, but ones widely used by the public."

Related tags: Sports nutrition, European union

Europe’s peak sports nutrition trade group has affirmed broad support for better and more relevant sports food, drink and supplement regulation across Europe, but emphasised not all parties agree on how to get there.

In a statement to NutraIngredients, the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) said its position differed significantly from Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE), which suggested at an ESSNA congress in Brussels last week that ‘specific legislation’ for sports nutrition products may be the best way forward for the sector.

ESSNA is firmly of the opinion that the best solution is to tweak existing European Union general food law.

“Treating sports nutrition differently would be entirely the wrong approach,” ​said ESSNA director of strategy, Chris Whitehouse.

These are not specialist products or the preserve of a small group, but ones widely used by the public. We need to acknowledge that the industry has matured and that specific regulations would hurt rather than help.”

He added: “We respect SNE’s views, but they are not representative of the industry as a whole. The majority of the sector is very clear that the best way forward is for sports nutrition products to be covered under general EU food law. But this also means that some adaptations have to be made in order reflect the uniqueness of the industry and its products, and continue promoting innovation.”

The sector awaits a European Commission report that is set to recommend possible legal positioning of the sector. It was due this summer but is now expected in 2016.

Incoming EU food law

As it stands, sports nutrition products like electrolyte drinks, creatine supplements and whey powders, worth billions of euros across the 28-nation EU bloc, will officially fall under general EU food law from July 2016 as the legislation previously covering sports nutrition will be repealed and replaced by the Foods for Specific Groups Regulation (FSG).

Products on the market or labelled before July 20, 2016, can be sold through until stocks are exhausted.

At its Brussels congress last week ESSNA noted how the current fragmented regime where national laws prevailed, was "hampering the functioning of the internal market". ​France setting its own limits on caffeine and creatine in food supplements was cited as just one example. 

At the congress a spokesperson from the European Commission spelled out EU mutual recognition principles and procedures that should permit greater cross-border trade when there is no harmonised EU legislation in place.

ESSNA said these principles needed to be upheld, especially with EU member states indicating they may establish their own sports nutrition rules.

"Commercial investment for businesses complying with EU framework needs to be rewarded,"​ ESSNA said noting its own beefed up compliance programme was helping achieve this end. Non-compliant members like ProteinWorld in the UK had been booted from the group for failing to meet its marketing standards.

85 alerts had been raised and acted up on, it said, with 20 passing to authorities like national food safety agencies, advertising watchdogs or local trading standards bodies. 59 had been resolved informally, with six ongoing. 

ESSNA’s general food law stance is backed by UNESDA (the Union of European Soft Drinks Associations) which stated at the same congress last week that sports drinks could “in principle, be regulated adequately by the horizontal [general food] legislation…subject to some adaptation of that legislation.”

SNE would like to introduce into the legislature a definition that sports nutrition products are “specifically designed, formulated and marketed in relation to physical activity, physical performance and/or post-exercise recovery."

ESSNA and UNESDA do not see the need for such a definition.

Correction: This story has been amended to clarify that it is the FSG, not the Food Information to Consumers (FIC) regulation, that sports foods are likely to fall under next year. It also clarifies that that only SNE seeks to have a sports nutrition definition entered into EU law books.

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