‘A watershed moment for the industry’: ESSNA welcomes Commission sports nutrition report

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

'After years of discussions and disputes there is finally light at the end of the regulatory tunnel for sports nutrition': ESSNA chair. © iStock.com / Jacob Ammentorp Lund
'After years of discussions and disputes there is finally light at the end of the regulatory tunnel for sports nutrition': ESSNA chair. © iStock.com / Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Related tags Sports nutrition European union Nutrition functional beverage beverage

The European Commission’s report on sports nutrition is a welcome ‘milestone’ which puts an end to more than a decade of regulatory uncertainty, the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) has said.

Last week the Commission published its long-awaited report outlaying the regulatory future of sports nutrition products. 

It said such products belong under the EU’s general food law not the Food for Specific Groups (FSG) regulation set to come into force in July.

Unlike its fellow trade group Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE), ESSNA said it welcomed the conclusions “which permits the industry space for growth and innovation and puts an end to more than a decade of regulatory uncertainty”. ​ 

ESSNA chair Dr Adam Carey said in a statement: “This is a watershed moment for the industry. After years of discussions and disputes there is finally light at the end of the regulatory tunnel for sports nutrition, and here at ESSNA we are delighted with the outcome – as, I’m sure, is the rest of the sector.”

Yet the rest of the sector was not delighted.

The Commission’s report said there were some “element of specificity” ​of sports food which may have to be taken into account by the Commission when applying the general food law, “so that such specificities can be adequately addressed”.

While ESSNA was encouraged”​ by this, SNE said last week that this left a dangerous gap in legal provision. 

SNE called for a continuation of the regulatory 'status quo' until the Commission had decided what these adaptations to the general food law would be exactly. 

ESSNA and SNE have long disagreed on how sports nutrition products should be regulated, and the Commission itself acknowledged in its report that industry was clearly divided”​ on the issue.

Divided opinion

SNE has consistently argued for special measures for the sector, while ESSNA has insisted this would hurt the segment that has increasingly mainstream consumer group.

The Commisson’s report comes as the FSG regulation is due to replace PARNUTS (Foods for Particular Nutritional Purposes)​ regulations and national rules in July.

While the FSG regulation does not include in its scope food intended for sportspeople, its small print required the Commission to produce a report for Parliament on the necessity, if any, of provisions for food intended for sportspeople.

A mainstream milestone

ESSNA was more positive about the report's conclusions however.

The Commission backed ESSNA’s belief that sports nutrition was an increasingly mainstream segment.

“Sports nutrition is no longer the domain of elite athletes that it was ten years ago, its use is much more widespread and there isn’t actually much that makes it different from general food,” ​said Dr Carey.

He said sports foods were just formulated products that supported their target audience in consuming the right amount of nutrients at the right time in a convenient format.

“In practice, this simply means that, for example, someone running the London marathon who halfway through needs to replenish on carbs that can be found in normal foods such as baked beans, honey or bananas, can much more conveniently get the same sustenance from a sports gel or protein bar being handed out on the side of the road.”

He said however that ESSNA was “delighted” ​the Commission recognised that people engaging in exercise have different nutritional requirements from the general public.

ESSNA hopes this will be reflected in the handling of health claims for sportspeople.  

The thorny issue of an internal market

sports whey protein iStock.com ginew

ESSNA said it was hopeful the report would usher in a “proper functioning”​ internal market, which it called a “thorny issue”. 

“The legislative uncertainty that the sector has experienced over the past years has meant that member states have been allowed to produce divergent and sometimes conflicting laws, hampering the movement of free goods and constituting a barrier to trade,” Dr ​Carey said.

“We are very hopeful that these practices will come to an end once the legislation is adopted on 20th​ July.”​ 

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