The European Commission has said it wants to abolish a 30-year-old law regulating dietetic foods manufactured for 'particular nutritional uses' – known as PARNUTS foods – because newer legislation has rendered it largely redundant.
The PARNUTS Directive controls the marketing of products such as protein bars, lactose-free food and slimming products that are "intended to satisfy the particular nutritional requirements of specific groups of the population."
The Commission said that the "evolution of food products and the evolution of EU food legislation" meant the difference between dietetic foods for specific groups of the population and specialized functional foods for the general population was "no longer clear for citizens, stakeholders and enforcement authorities."
In addition, the Commission said application of the PARNUTS Directive across the European Union varied so widely that the legislation created distortions in the market.
A simplified draft regulation has been proposed to replace the existing directive and to bring all member states into line. Under this, dietetic foods will be reclassified as ‘general’ foods and will have to satisfy requirements laid down by newer regulations such as those for health claims and the addition of vitamins, minerals and other ingredients to food. The Commission said this would reduce the administrative burden for companies.
John Dalli, the EU’s health and consumer policy commissioner, said: "Thanks to our new approach, consumers will be able to compare food products more easily as the foods concerned will be covered by the same rules in the 27 member states, providing the same high level of protection for all European citizens and fair and accurate information.
"The abolishing of general rules on dietetic foods that have become unnecessary or confusing should also contribute to fair competition between similar products, allow SMEs to gain easier access to the market and support innovation."
Dietetic food group pushes back on proposal
But the Brussels-based European Dietetic Foods Association (IDACE) reacted negatively to the proposal, warning it could harm the welfare of vulnerable groups such as premature infants, the sick, people with food allergies and the obese and malnourished.
IDACE president Ferdinand Haschke said: "There is no justification for dismantling the existing legislation. General food law alone is not adequate to provide food safety and health protection for vulnerable and fragile parts of the EU population. Many of our consumers have very special and unique nutritional needs."
However, the Commission said it would ensure any new law "strengthens and clarifies provisions for foods intended for vulnerable groups of the population who need particular protection – namely infants and children up to three years old, and people with specific medical conditions, such as cancer patients, or individuals with metabolism disorders."