The European Union regulation on nutrition and health claims has passed into law. The law provides a framework to authorise and control what can be said on food and beverage labels in all EU member states.
The fiercely contested regulation has been amended hundreds of times over issues such as the nutrient profiles of foods bearing health claims and what kinds of claims should be permitted. Even in its passing, Denmark and Sweden voted against the regulation at Council level while Ireland and the Netherlands abstained. A final stumbling block — over the absence of text relating to how further amendments would be administered within the legislation — was resolved without sending the controversial regulation back to the drawing board.
However, the contentious nature of the regulation means many aspects of the complex legislation are yet to be clarified. These include:
- the phase-out period for existing claims on children's products that have been prohibited in the regulation
- the criteria required by the European Food Safety Authority to assess health claim dossiers
- for how long EFSA will accept health claim submissions
- aspects of nutrient profiling guidelines.
"There is a lot of work to do, a lot of questions yet to be answered," said Lorène Courrège, director of regulatory affairs at the Belgium-based European Health Product Manufacturers' association (EHPM). "We are waiting on guidelines in some areas but, in theory, all of these issues have to be clarified by the end of next year."
Barring further delay, the regulation is expected to become law in January, from which point companies and other groups have 12 months to submit health claim petitions. From these submissions and existing claims, EFSA will then draw up a central list of claims for use within the EU. The regulation states this must be done by Jan. 1, 2010. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency advised companies to get claims submissions in early and to keep them as generic as possible.