The report followed a 14-year dispute on how sports foods should be seen in the eyes of EU law: as ‘normal’ food or as specialist products for specific people and purposes.
Commenting on the report, Dr Luca Bucchini, managing director of Hylobates Consulting, told us: “Overall, I think EFSA's opinion backs the idea that health claims are sufficient to regulate foods for sports people under general food law, and that no specific legislation or guidance is needed.”
He said this was shown by the fact that EFSA used health claim opinions to scrutinise each point in the report. It used claims assessments for the general population, for example for vitamin B6, which could imply relevance for sports people too.
Another commentator, head of nutrition for dairy firm Volac Suzane Leser, said one "important reassurance" from the opinion was that the generic approved claim on protein and muscle mass growth was applicable to sports nutrition products and its conditions of use served the needs of sports people too.
In a blog post, Dr Mark Tallon, managing director of consultancy firm Legal Foods, called the report a “first step” in sports foods being considered as ‘normal foods’ in the eyes of EU law.
However, the Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE), a proponent of more specific treatment of the sports nutrition sector, said it was important to remember it was not the mandate of risk assessor EFSA to determine if a specific legislation was needed or not. This instead would fall to the European Commission and member states as risk managers.
It’s a long story…
The EU Food for Specific Groups (FSG) regulation, due to come into force on July 20 next year, will replace existing PARNUTS (Foods for Particular Nutritional Purposes) regulations and national rules.
While the FSG regulation does not include in its scope food intended for sportspeople, its small print required the European Commission to produce a report for Parliament after consulting with EFSA on the necessity, if any, of provisions for food intended for sports people. This final report could offer a legislative proposal.
Yesterday’s opinion from EFSA was the first step in this process, in which EFSA was asked to consider a 2001 report by its predecessor the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF).
The two options have exposed differences in opinion among certain players in the sector. Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE) has argued that specific legislation for sports nutrition products may be the way forward, but has not ruled out adjustments to the general food law under the Food for Special Groups (FSG) regulation and others dealing with health claims, fortified foods, supplements and food labelling.
SNE has backed the addition of a definition into the legislature that sports nutrition products were “specifically designed, formulated and marketed in relation to physical activity, physical performance and/or post-exercise recovery".
Meanwhile fellow trade group the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) insisted such specific regulation would hurt the sector that has seen an increasingly wide consumer group, and instead general food law should be tweaked to accommodate sports products.
EFSA’s opinion largely stuck true to the 2001 SCF report on many points including energy requirements, carbohydrate-rich foods and glycogen metabolism, carbohydrates and electrolytes and hydration and protein and vitamin B6 for muscle growth and protein metabolism.