Lobbyists take aim at health claims on high sugar products

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

BEUC wants health claims off HFSS food
BEUC wants health claims off HFSS food

Related tags Nutrient profiles Nutrition

The European Consumer Organisation, BEUC, has called on the European Commission to tackle unhealthy food and beverage products that still make health-related claims.

The BEUC has launched a new campaign denouncing the EC’s “long-standing failure”​ to “clear the market of bogus food claims”​ that are allegedly made by manufacturers of products that are high in sugar, fat or salt.

According to BEUC, the EC was due to publish nutrient profiles that would establish maximum thresholds to stop “unhealthy food”​ making “bogus claims”​ nine years ago.

“The publication of those profiles has not happened yet. We are urging the EU to act now to avoid celebrating a 10-year delay in January 2019. In the context of an obesity epidemic, it is essential that consumers are not offered foods that look healthier than they are,” ​communications manager for food, health, sustainability and safety Pauline Constant told FoodNavigator.

Powdered beverages, kids products

Highlighting what it believes to be some of the worst offenders on social media, BEUC noted that powdered beverages and products aimed at children regularly carry health claims despite high levels of sugar.

“As our real-life examples show, it is common for consumers to see food products loaded with sugar, salt or fat with claims 'high in fibres', 'B vitamins' or 'boosts your immune system'. A hot drink made up of 75% sugar should not be able to boast about calcium and vitamins. At the moment, these claims are being used as a marketing tool by manufacturers rather than a useful indicator of a healthy product to consumers,​” Constant argued.

The social media campaign has flagged powdered beverages such as Nestlé’s Nesquick, Idilia Foods’ Cola Coa and Mercator’s Ben Quick. It has also called out Danone’s Actimel Kids which flags its vitamin D content in Germany but – it said – contains high levels of sugar.

Responding to the campaign, however, Nestlé's European affairs manager Olivera Medugorac stressed that the Swiss company actually backs the introduction of nutrient profiles. 

"Nestlé was one of the companies supporting the joint call for urgent adoption of EU-wide nutrient profiles for nutrition and health claims in May 2017. We in Nestlé believe that nutrient profiles ensure a level playing field in guiding consumers, industry, government, and public health stakeholders towards improved food and beverage choices,"​ Medugorac said.

‘Health halo’

Constant said that this practice is particularly misleading because it gives a “healthy halo to unhealthy products”.

“This is even more so problematic for products that target young children, not to mention babies. Parents want the healthiest for their little ones. They would hardly imagine that baby cereals claiming to contain iron, zinc, and vitamins would be made up of nearly 30% of sugar. On top of misleading consumers, those marketing messages are eye-catching whereas sugar levels only appear on the back of the pack, in small characters.”

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