The death of diet foods? EU Parliament approve laws that could 'wipe out' very low calorie diet products

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Manufacturers and distributors of very low calorie diet (VLCD) programmes and products could be effectively wiped out by new rules passed by European lawmakers last week, warn industry leaders.

An attempt to block new laws on the harmonisation of diet foods in Europe has failed, with Members of European Parliament (MEPs) voting down an objection by 36 votes to 26 (with one abstention).

The European legislation, which after the failed objection will now be written into law, attempts to harmonise rules on foods intended for use in energy-restricted diets for weight reduction, including total diet replacement products for weight control, as Europe faces a growing tide of clinical obesity.

“We supported the need for legislation on composition but our repeated requests that the scientific evidence be reconsidered before legislation was made were rebuffed,” ​commented Professor Anthony Leeds, Medical Director of the European Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) Industry Group.

Obesity and obesity-related conditions are challenging all European countries,” ​said Leeds.

“The EU has misjudged this issue,” ​he commented. “The very latest published scientific evidence shows that total diet replacement (VLCD and LCD) programmes deliver the amount of weight loss (10 to 20kg) needed to have a huge beneficial impact on Europe’s major health challenges: diabetes, osteoarthritis, and cardiovascular disease.”

Regulatory change: Why does it matter?

After receiving a report from the European Food safety Authority (EFSA) in 2015, the Commission initially proposed a new set of rules (Regulation (EU) No 609/2013​) including laws on the composition of these diet foods.

While the EFSA report and new proposals were initially welcomed​, things began to fall apart when by early 2016 many realised that some of the proposed changes were unworkable​ - meaning that changes to law would result in VLCDs being very difficult to manufacture, would make them taste unpleasant, have an unappealing texture, turn rancid quickly and be much more expensive for consumers – effectively wiping them out from the market​.

Leeds points to new rules demanding that diet replacement regimes should contain a minimum of 75 grams (g) of protein, compared to previous demands of 50g, while the trade body was also unhappy about new demands on levels of essential fatty acids (11g for linoleic acids and 1.4g for alpha linoleic) – suggesting that the new demands will lead to "a sharp increase in production costs."

Several MEPs recognised the issues and suggested that the law may counter its intended purpose. As such they put forward a motion for resolution to block the act.

The VLCD Industry Group called on MEPs to reject the proposals and put forward a compromise agreement, which would have included a 60g minimum level of protein and a 6g minimum level of linoleic acids and 0.7g minimum level of alpha linoleic.

However the motion for resolution was rejected – meaning the original EC regulation will be published and the act will enter into force.

‘Catastrophic effects’

According to Professor Leeds the decision will likely negatively impact the rising tide of obesity levels across the EU – and also fails to take into account evidence from new EU-funded trials that show significant benefits in terms of weight loss and healthcare cost-savings.

“An EU-funded trial in six EU member-states and two others has shown that people at risk of diabetes can reduce weight by an average 10kg using total diet replacements and over one third are no-longer pre-diabetic,” ​said Leeds.

He added that is it ‘deeply disappointing’ that such a European collaborative project – which demonstrated that elderly obese could lose 10kg and keep it off for four years, suffering less pain throughout as a consequence – has been set back since these are major contributors to expensive knee operations.

The health-care cost-savings of this are mind-boggling and should have convinced more committee members to vote for this rejection of legislation,” ​he said – adding that the new rules are ‘disproportionate’ and ‘largely unsubstantiated’.

“The European Food Safety Authority itself has openly admitted that some of its recommendations are based on theory rather than hard scientific evidence. This legislation is not supported by evidence showing that current compositions are anything other than safe, nor is there hard scientific evidence to show that the new changes would make them safer for consumers.” 

Professor Leeds warned that the decision will also have ‘catastrophic effects’ on ordinary consumers who simply want to manage weight loss – adding that it carries “a very real risk of forcing them to turn to dangerous, unregulated alternatives such as illegal slimming pills or ‘fad’ diets’ in their desperation to lose weight.”

“It goes completely against the main objective of the Food for Specific Groups regulation to enhance consumer safety, and quite simply, is very likely to escalate the already shocking public health challenge of obesity in Europe.”

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3 comments

You have to make it routine, dont let it take over your life!

Posted by Sally Watts,

I went from one extreme to the other! I was hospitalised and feed food through a drip, too keep me alive! But now leading a perfectly normal life! Size 10/12 stable for 10 years! Nobody ever says it was going to be easy! My mum was classed as obese at size 14! Get real! All you big people out their size 18 plus, need to do is take 2 fatty foods out of your diet for only 2 weeks, and see your wait plummet! and how proud will you feel? don't stop!keep your momentum going! Introduce vegetables not the boring old boiled veg, you can have a stir fry a massive one! Add as many meets and veg as you want, My advice to you not dripping in fat, put your fat or oil what ever you cook with, place it on a piece of kitchen roll folded up between your fingers and put it around cold pan before you start your stir fry, if veg isn't to your liking then you can do it with fruit! very filling and satisfactory because it is fried! You will find yourself eating less fatty take-away before you know it automatically! Those of you who don't like veg or fruit, you should be having a multi vitamin every day!

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Bariatric Counceling

Posted by Linda P.,

It actually doesn't matter the foods used, powders or foods, as long as it aides in weight loss the benefits will be seen and felt. However, the person needs to change their 'mind' and thinking and rethink their food choices for a lifetime achievement to keep the weight off. If they choose to go back to ratting the same foods they ate before any weight loss, it will only come back. Once a fat person, always a fat person. Those fat cells are still there, the same amount they had before and can become enlarged again by going back to their old foods and habits. It has to be a 'lifetime' commitment of eating small amounts, dieting and exercising to maintain said weight loss. Most cannot do that, let their guard down and regain some if not all and even more. So, get the weight down, learn how and what to eat, move by some sort of heart pumping exercise and keep the weight off permanently. I have maintained a 127lb weight loss for more than 13 years. I had Bariatric Surgery and so far I am the only one in my area who has achieved these results. It's not just about what goes in the mouth, it's the mind and a persons activity level as well.

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Long term effects of very low calorie diets

Posted by Judith Wurtman,

Are total meal replacement diets effective in changing eating behavior permanently? We all
remember Oprah Winfrey's televised success in
losing weight on such a diet decades ago and
then her failure to keep off the weight ( along with most of the others who followed the same
liquid meal replacement diet .

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