Earlier this week, the European Parliament held its second reading vote on proposed health and nutrition claims regulations, intended to ensure that consumers would be able to rely on the truth and accuracy of information on food labels and to create a level playing field for food manufacturers wishing to use health or nutrition claims. The second reading, which passed by an overwhelming majority, incorporated several amendments to the original proposed regulation, and is expected to be adopted by the European Council by this autumn, after which it will enter into force. The first provisions of the regulation will begin to apply 6 months from this time, and for those claims not specifically on the positive list, a transitional period of two years will apply for existing nutrition claims, three years for existing health claims.
The proposed Health and Nutrition Claims Regulation lays down strict conditions for the use of nutrition claims such as “low fat”, “high fibre” or “reduced sugar”. Set thresholds will have to be met before such claims can be made. For example, there will have to be 6g of fibre per 100g for the claim “high fibre” to be used and no more than 0.12g of sodium per 100g/100ml for the claim “low sodium/salt”. In addition, a nutrition claim can only be used if it fits a certain nutritional profile (i.e. below a certain salt, fat and/or sugar level). These nutritional profiles will be set by Commission and MemberStates through Comitology procedure, based on the opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), within 24 months of the Regulation entering into force. A nutrition claim will still be permitted if only one nutrient (e.g. salt, sugar or fat) exceeds the limit of the nutritional profile. However, the high level of this substance must be clearly marked on the label, close to and with the same prominence as the claim.
Regarding health claims, the Commission will draw up a positive list of well-established health claims which may be used on a label so long as they are proven to apply to the food in question. Member States will submit a list of claims already approved at national level and, within 3 years of the Regulation entering into force, the Commission will produce an EU positive list of health claims. Any claims submitted for the EU list after this period will have to be examined by EFSA and approved by the Commission and MemberStates through the Comitology procedure. Further, the use of new health claims or disease reduction claims, such as “[name of product] lowers cholesterol” or “calcium helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis”, will require specific authorization, on a case by case basis, by the Commission through the Comitology procedure, following submission of a scientific dossier, involving scientific assessment and verification of the claim by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In the simplified procedure envisioned, if the EFSA Opinion on the claim is positive, the Commission will take a decision on whether or not to authorize it after simple consultation of Members States. However, if EFSA gives a negative Opinion, the standard Comitology procedure will be used to decide whether or not to authorize the claim i.e. MemberState experts will vote on a Commission proposal in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health.
The Regulation would apply to any food or drink product produced for human consumption to be sold on the EU/ MemberStates’ market. The proposed new rules do not cover cosmetics, medicine or pet food products.
Information in labeling, marketing or advertising about the nutritional or health benefits of foods which is not clear, accurate or substantiated will not be permitted. In addition, claims referring to rates or amounts of weight loss, as well as claims referring to recommendations of individual doctors will be banned. Health claims on alcoholic beverages above 1.2 % will also not be allowed, except those referring to a reduction in alcohol or energy content, due to the link between alcohol and other health and social problems.
More on Nutrient Profiles:
Nutrient profiles will be based on the scientific opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Within 24 months of the Regulation entering into force, the Commission will consult the relevant stakeholders, and present proposals for nutrient profiles to MemberState experts in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. If the Standing Committee backs these proposed nutrient profiles, they will be adopted by the Commission (Comitology procedure) and will enter into force following publication in the Official Journal of the European Communities.