A few nutrition enthusiasts gave us a sneak peek at their lists this year.
1. A challenge for the EC
Luca Bucchini, managing director at Hylobates Consulting, said he hoped the nutrition industry would push for a single market in the year to come.
“Yes, national markets can be cosy but working the EU system for derogations is short-sighted: Our nutrition industry needs diversity, innovation and, yes, scale.”
So what’s to be done? “Challenge the EC, and member states, to prove that ten EU best sellers can be legally sold anywhere in Europe, without reformulation or different claims, or remove all obstacles they find in their way - by the end of 2017.”
2. A lesson or two for Mr Cameron
Chris Whitehouse founder and chairman of Whitehouse Consultancy and director of strategy for the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) had plans for UK and EU level politics.
He hoped for a “further embedding in the psyche of the European Commission” of the need to avoid any additional regulatory burdens on businesses.
He also hoped UK plans for a referendum on its EU membership would be called off.
“A vote in 2016 would be too soon. David Cameron will not by then have found solutions to the challenges he has identified in our relationship with Europe and would have to support the ‘out’ campaign, leading inevitably to our exit from the Union.”
3. A ban lift for probiotics
Lara Skoblikov, partner at Food Compliance International, said she hoped 2016 would bring an end to the current de facto ban on the use of the term ‘probiotics’ under the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).
“I believe that the reasoning that has brought about the ban are legally flawed and deprive consumers of the information they need in order to make informed choices in relation to food they consume,” she told us.
“Since I have worked a lot on this matter, it would be great to see a break-through in this important matter, also from a personal standpoint.”
4. An end to blundering for botanicals – one way or another
Now managing director of Food Law Consult, Joris Geelen worked for eight years as a botanicals regulatory expert at the Belgian Department of Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment including on the cross-state list BELFRIT.
He said he hoped for “a more coherent, appropriate and progressive approach for botanicals”.
European consumer protection group BEUC also had a botanical solution on its wish list – that the European Commission allows the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to treat botanical claims like any other claim.
“Claims on botanical products should be justified with sound science, just like all other claims,” it said. “The principle ‘no evidence, no claim’ should prevail.”
A need for clarity was a recurrent theme among those we asked.
Eric Chappuis, consulting director for Naturalpha, said he was hoping for more clarity on regulatory grey areas such as medical devices, botanicals and food for special medical purposes (FSMP), which has already begun.
“It’s clearly a blocking point for the industry and it’s clearly not protecting the consumer,” he said.
5. Storming the Curative Castle
Ewa Hudson, Euromonitor International’s global head of health and wellness research, said she was hoping food could give pharma a run for its money next year.
“I am hoping for a progression in the approach to chronic diseases, whereby they can be prevented or managed with the use of nutrients rather than pharma solutions.
“As an example, there is science around probiotics being beneficial in treatment of diabetes, astaxanthin and Egyptian rice bran as well as weight management in the fight against Alzheimer - surely consumers should not have to wait 20 years before they can benefit from such solutions.”
Peter Wennstrom, founder and consultant at the HealthyMarketingTeam, echoed this idea of a food-pharma play off.
While European regulation and EFSA high standards had created a “severe roadblock for the nutrition industry”, it had forced it to take the harder route of proving nutritional claims and functions with rigorous science.
“This will accelerate the breakthrough of nutrition as the preferred route for preventing illnesses and will also break into the Curative Castle hitherto occupied and protected by Pharma and its stakeholders. We will see a breakthrough for nutrition in area after area in the coming years.
“This will be fuelled by the global need to prevent and cure the pandemic of non communicable diseases (CVD, Diabetes, etc) that now are the main cause of death globally.”
6. Science, consumer protection, regulation
Luca Bucchini said the industry needed to put more confidence in science in 2016. This would only happen though if it knew investing in scientific research and in human trials was worthwhile and rewarded in Europe.
“If we consider scientific progress, from the microbiome to personalised nutrition, there is lots of ground to cover for applied science.”
Consumers needed a confidence boost too – in those looking out for their safety.
He said it was time regulators caught up with what consumers really want: enforcement on the internet of quality and safety issues.
He had high hopes for EFSA’s role in this as well as players like ESSNA, which had already begun its own industry vigilante initiative.
BEUC also said more could be done to increase consumer protection – namely through the long awaited introduction of nutrient profiles [written into the 2007 NHCR], which faced European Parliamentary votes in 2015 as part of the Commission’s ‘better regulation’ initiative.
“The European Commission should follow the World Health Organisation’s example and develop nutrient profiles. We support the use of health and nutrition claims as long as they are only used on products with a minimum healthy profile.
“Without profiles, health and nutrition claims can appear on confectionery, snacks, beverages, etc. which are loaded with sugar, fat or salt and can foster excess energy intake.”
It also said it wanted action on marketing food to children.
“Kids are still highly targeted by foods high in fat, sugar and salt. With one in three European children being either overweight or obese, the food industry should commit more strongly to reduce such marketing.”
7. A complete rethink for EU food law?
EAS strategies’ global managing director Simon Pettman said 2016 could be a “crucial turning point” for the nutrition industry, with the Commission's ‘better
regulation’ and REFIT programme promising regulatory simplification. For this to happen however the European Commission, Parliament and 28 EU member states had to be willing to go all the way.
“To be credible REFIT should also address a broad range of food legislation. It would find that a lack of harmonisation, diverging interpretations by member states, burdensome and excessively long procedures, legal uncertainty, lack of clarity on the requirements and decision processes have a fundamental impact on new product development and innovation.
“The decision to evaluate the effectiveness of the nutrition and health claims is a great step. The decision to only cover the two elements that have not yet been implemented - nutrition profiles and botanicals - is likely to make it a missed opportunity."