Europe still unable to agree on nutrient profiles

Uncertainty persists around the nutrient profiling system that will underpin the European Union's Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation.

Under the regulation, which covers food, drink and food supplements, the European Commission wants to stop products high in at least one of saturated fat, salt or sugar from carrying positive health claims. It will use nutrient profiling to decide which products fit this description.

A model for determining profiles should have been adopted by 19 January but the Commission has been unable to agree on a way forward.

Miguel da Silva, adviser at Brussel's based consultancy EAS, said various versions of a Commission working document on the setting of the profiles had been discussed since June 2008 — but it remained controversial.

"A large number of issues in these discussions are still lacking in consensus," said Da Silva. "Some member states have tabled specific requests that could be potential deal breakers; other points are the object of clear disagreements among one another. These include the eligibility criteria for certain food categories that benefit from the adapted profiles model, such as dairy and cereal products."

There have been some areas on which the majority member states have been able to agree on, however. This includes the list of food categories that will be exempt from having to comply with the profiles. The good news for supplements suppliers is that most countries support the exemption of their products.

Other exemptions include certain dietetic foods; cereal-based foods and baby foods intended for infants and young children; foods intended for use in energy-restricted diets for weight reduction; infant formulae and follow-on formulae; and dietary foods for special medical purposes.

Da Silva said discussions were set to continue on nutrient profiles, but it remained unclear when there would be final agreement. "Taking into account the timeframe of the regulatory procedure for approval of the Commission's proposal — which involves the Council of the EU and the European Parliament — one wonders whether the Commission will manage to get these profiles adopted before the European elections in June 2009," he said.

But he added: "This delay in the adoption of the profiles is not necessarily a bad thing. It will allow more time to discuss the Commission proposal in detail and, from a very pragmatic point of view, it will also postpone the moment when industry will need to start complying with the profiles."

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