European health claims legislation hits hurdle at final stage

The much-debated and long-awaited European Union Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation that was due to pass into law this month has been pulled up over a technicality that the industry fears could delay its enactment by months or longer.

The regulation's passage was halted after sections involving the process of establishing and regulating nutrient profiles were found not to reflect late amendments, which gave intervention powers to the European Parliament if it had concerns over salt, sugar and fat levels.

Industry groups expressed concern over the impact the delay might have on the fragile compromise the regulation represents in its current form. Over a number of years, the regulation trampolined many times between various EU legislative arms, as they made one amendment after another to it.

The delay could amount to many months or longer, Patrick Coppens, secretary general at Belgium-based European Alliance for Responsible Nutrition, told FF&N. However he saw the delay as an opportunity for the European Parliament (EP) to iron out legal ambiguities he believes have been written into the regulation as a result of all the compromising that had occurred in its development.

These included the fact that there was no transition period for claims on children's products and uncertainty about the workability of the accelerated claims approval procedure. Coppens said it was possible for the European Council and the EP to reach an agreement to streamline the process but "it depends on the various factions within the EP."

At the same time there was the potential for old sores to be opened including the most contentious one — the principles that underpin nutrient profiling. "This legislation is so delicate it could end up in the European Court of Justice if it gets opened up again and that could mean delays of years," Coppens warned.

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