In March, the Members of the European Parliament (MEP) demonstrated once again that they are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to food law. The European Commission’s proposal for an EU-wide list of permitted health claims for foods saw heavy debate as many MEPs in the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI Committee) raised an objection to the list. But the proposal survived and is one step closer to adoption.
The objection to the list of approved article 13.1 claims (claims based on generally accepted scientific evidence) was based on the way in which these health claims have been assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and subsequently treated by the European Commission. MEPs argued that the assessment criteria have been inappropriate and disproportionate to the aims of the European Union’s Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, which is currently being implemented, and that it has led to the rejection of many claims that should be on the permitted list.
In the end, 22 votes were in favor of the objection to the list and 37 against the objection. The vote was closer than many had anticipated, largely because the largest political group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), decided to support the objection. The EPP has since asked for a declaration to be attached to the regulation strongly urging the European Commission to take into consideration its concerns.
While the European Commission is not obliged to heed the European Parliament, the debate was just the latest example of the Parliament exercising its relatively new powers to scrutinise European Union regulations, a procedure known as the regulatory procedure with scrutiny. The idea is that if indeed the claims regulation has been implemented in a way different to what was intended, then MEPs, who are direct representatives of the EU citizens, must intervene.
Nathalie Wood is Food Regulation and Policy Manager at EAS - strategic advice on nutritional products. www.eas.eu