The future of nutrient profiles has been plunged into fresh uncertainty after it emerged some MEPs accidentally voted against deleting them from the EU's Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation, according to a leading expert on European regulation.
A vote on axing the profiles, which are designed to prevent junk food products from carrying health claims, took place on 16 June during a debate on a separate piece of legislation — the Food Information Regulation — which will cover labelling of food and drink.
During the debate, German MEP Renate Sommer introduced an amendment to delete Article 4 from the Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation, the article which includes a requirement for profiles, a procedure permitted under EU rules. MEPs voted 309 in favour and 309 against the proposal, with a tie meaning the motion was defeated.
But Miguel Fernandes Da Silva, director of health and nutrition policy at Brussels-based consultancy EAS, said that following the vote, five MEPs admitted they had in fact voted incorrectly against the amendment, while two other MEPS had said that they had incorrectly voted in favour of it.
"If these MEPs had voted as they intended, a clear majority would have voted for the amendment, with 312 votes in favour and 306 votes against," he said. "The Parliament would have then officially called for the deletion of nutrient profiling from the EU's health claims regulation and consequently, the Council and Commission would have had to seriously consider it during their discussions on the proposal for labeling for foods."
In spite of the MEPs owning up to their mistake, the vote will stand. However, Da Silva said the outcome illustrated how opinion in the Parliament, which is located in Strasbourg, has shifted against the use of nutrient profiles to restrict the use of health claims.
"When the amendment was introduced \[by Sommer\] it received a lot of criticism and had hardly any support, especially as the amendment related to a provision that is included in another regulation," he said. "However, it would seem that following a number of intense debates within the Parliament, more and more MEPs have decided they have serious concerns about the concept."
Da Silva said DG SANCO, the European Commission department that is drawing up the profiles, already had its work cut out pushing them through because of opposition in the past among other Commission departments. Once beyond that stage, the proposal will undergo scrutiny by the Parliament, which will be able to either accept or block it from going through.
The prospect of the latter of these two eventualities occurring now seems closer, said Da Silva. "Given that there was so much opposition and growing concern over the concept of nutrient profiling amongst the MEPs in its vote on the 16 June, it remains uncertain how the MEPs will react when they are confronted with the details as to how the Commission will elaborate the system of nutrient profiling. It is very difficult to be certain of what fate lies ahead for nutrient profiles."