You would be forgiven for missing it yesterday as the European Parliament debated issues like the Syrian refugee crisis in its Strasbourg plenary.
But look a little closer and you will see that botanical health claims, nutrient profile and general food legislation made it into the final annual work programme – a list of ten political priorities and 23 key initiatives the Commission will be addressing in 2016.
About 70 initiatives were axed by the Commission this year in the spirit of President Jean-Claude Juncker’s ambition to 'do less, better’.
Speaking to press, vice-president Frans Timmermans said the Commission was now “working differently” and the work programme would only include issues that could realistically be covered within the next year.
Nutrition and health claims made on botanicals, nutrient profiles and food legislation as a whole will be among those issues, covered under the pillar Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) programme.
A roadmap for this set a January 2016 start date for the ‘evaluation / legislative’ initiative on nutrient profiles and botanicals and a completion date of June 2017.
The scope of this project would only cover nutrient profiles and health claims on plants and their preparations but this could be extended where necessary to other regulatory aspects like safety requirements for botanicals.
“The purpose of this evaluation is to assess whether the current requirements for nutrient profiles and claims made on botanicals are fit-for-purpose,” according to Commission documents.
For food legislation this would entail a follow-up on the 'Fitness Check on the General Food Law' project.
The nutrient profile issue in a nutshell
Nutrient profiles were supposed to be set by 2009, according to the conditions of the 2006 nutrition and health claims regulation. They were intended to provide a profile of the kind of foods companies could make health claims on, preventing a company from claiming foods high in salt, fat or sugar were good for health. However, six years on and the profiles still haven't been set.
Consumer groups say they are needed to prevent 'health halos' on unhealthy products. However, with the introduction of new EU labelling requirements, namely the Food Information for Consumers (FIC) Regulation, it has been questioned whether the concept of nutrient profiles is now obsolete.
"Thus, while there is currently no legal link between certain levels of fat, sugars and salt and the possibility to make health and nutrition claims, the consumer is provided with factual information on the nutritional value of the food in question," the Commission document said.
The botanical health claim issue in a nutshell
There are about 2000 botanical health claims on hold, within which 500 received a negative opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EFSA requires human studies to prove efficacy, but the majority of botanical health claim dossiers rely on 'traditional use' evidence. This kind of evidence is allowed under medicinal laws through a simplified registration procedure. Yet under current EU rules, it is possible for member states to classify a product as food or as medicine on a case-by-case basis depending on its presentation and claimed effect. This has led to confusion and disparities between countries.