In a statement released by trade association Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE), the group suggest the act of deregulation and the lack of specific EU rules for specialised nutrition pose ‘concrete risks’ including consumer confusion, loss of innovation and market fragmentation.
The SNE has urged the Commission to improve the status of specialised nutrition across the EU in its review of the Better Regulation approach.
“90% of Europeans will need to use specialised nutrition at some point in their lives, in many cases as their sole source of nutrition,” said Udo Herz, president of SNE.
“Specific EU rules for specialised nutrition are critical to boost consumer protection and industry innovation by ensuring minimum and harmonised standards across the European Single Market.“
The Better Regulation approach refers to the SNE’s position paper that calls for renewed efforts in improving regulation concerning specialised nutrition, which the group feels the Commission has taken a step backwards especially when the EU still has a key role to play.
“SNE supports the European Commission’s Better Regulation agenda as a way to involve stakeholders in the policy making process and ensure that EU actions are based on evidence, and that regulatory burdens are kept to a minimum,” the paper said.
“However, Better Regulation should not mean deregulation: specific, targeted rules are critical to protect consumers who will need specialised nutrition at some stage in their lives.
“The European Union must take its responsibility and provide a policy framework that recognises the role of specialised nutrition products and enables European citizens to access these products and use them safely.”
The SNE claim successive amendments of the EU framework that applies to specialised nutrition have not led to better regulation, arguing that harmonised standards managing the sector were now at stake.
Foods for specific groups
It cited the conflict the Regulation on Foods for Specific Groups (FSG) had to contend with as the new directive governing the rights of specific groups of consumers as well as the composition and labelling of foods specifically created for them.
While this new Regulation provides an umbrella legislative framework for various category-specific products, it has also created a number of legislative uncertainties for some product categories.
These include young children, people with gluten intolerance, overweight and obese people trying to lose weight via meal replacements, and people relying on sports foods for intense muscular efforts, which to date have not been solved.
Now with deregulation looming, coupled with the lack of specific EU rules for specialised nutrition, the SNE firmly believe the confusion for consumers stems from an inability to recognise products specially formulated for their nutritional needs.
The prospect of specialised nutrition products falling under the same blanket labelling and marketing rules as general food products will discourage R&D, the group added as industry loses the ability to provide information about the positive health and nutritional impact of scientific and clinically-supported innovations.
Fragmented internal market?
The SNE also said if the EU did not act to harmonise rules, Member States could fill the legal vacuum by adopting national rules, resulting in a fragmented internal market.
“This risk is tangible,” they said, “as some countries are already considering the introduction of national regulations for certain categories of specialised nutrition which are no longer regulated by specific provisions at EU level.”
As outlined in the European Commission’s foresight study ‘Delivering on EU food safety and nutrition in 2050,' SNE urged European policy makers to place nutrition and health higher as key priorities on the EU policy agenda.
“The failure to recognise the importance of specialised nutrition products in tackling societal challenges such as rising rates of obesity, malnutrition, or food allergies will have negative public health consequences across Europe,” they warned.
The European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), a trade association representing the best interests of firms operating in the sports nutrition sector, fundamentally disagreed with SNE's position with regards to the regulation of sports foods.
"We campaigned for and welcomed with open arms the European Commission’s 2016 report that stated that sports nutrition products now fall under General Food Law," said Dr Adam Carey, chair of ESSNA.
"It’s important to remember that General Food Law doesn’t mean a free for all – these products are still very tightly regulated; the rules governing their marketing, labelling, and any claims they make about their benefits are some of the strictest in the world, and the majority of the industry, including ESSNA’s members across the EU, work in the framework of this legislation. What it does mean is that we finally have regulatory certainty and that our industry has more freedom to grow, innovate and develop a whole range of new products."
Dr Carey acknowledged that ESSNA recognised and agreed that sportspeople had some very specific nutritional needs and requirements that differed from the general population's, adding that these considerations were to be kept in mind when formulating legislation.
"However we don’t think a separate policy framework is needed for this. Indeed, we believe that this can be very adequately, and in fact is best, addressed within General Food Law, and particularly within the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR).
"It is essential that the needs of sportspeople are taken into account during the NHCR authorisation process, and this can be achieved by ensuring that claims that have been positively assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have a condition of use specifying their use only by consumers undertaking a certain level of physical activity. This is something we are proactively taking forward on behalf of the industry.”
Dr Carey also wanted to see sports nutrition functioning uniformly across the different member states adding, "We are also working alongside member states who are responsible for implementation and enforcement of legislation, creating strong relationships that’ll help us ensure that the industry is compliant and consumers are informed across the continent".
“In a nutshell, the state of play today is by far the best we’ve had in in years. Asking for a complete overhaul of the regulation is not the way forward – and moreover, it is a waste of time and resources to ask for regulation that the Commission has no intention of putting forward and for which the debate has long been settled.
"It’s also a distraction from the core concerns for the industry and its consumers, such as health claims and innovation, tackling non-compliance and encouraging sports with the right nutrition.
"The specialised foods industry is much better off focusing its efforts on working alongside the Commission to tackle the issues that matter, so as to ensure the best possible outcome that allows the sector to grow and innovate.”