Pan-European health claims a step closer

The much debated and amended Health and Nutrition Claims Regulation has won a near unanimous majority at its second reading in the European Parliament, which is likely to adopt the rule across all 25 European Union member states, possibly by the end of the year.

There had been two fundamental points of disagreement regarding the Health and Nutrition Claims Regulation:

  • what level of scrutiny was required for products bearing health and nutrition claims to enter the market
  • the manner in which foods that failed to meet certain nutrient profiles could be marketed.
These appear to have been resolved, although food industry groups continued to voice their opposition to the impending legislation because of the restrictiveness of the health claims registration procedures while consumer groups were disappointed nutrient profiling had not been more rigidly applied. Some European parliamentarians have threatened legal action if the Regulation proceeds as is.

As it stands, the Regulation will establish a central register of approved health claims from member states. The European Commission aims to finalise a central registry of claims within three years of the Regulation's enactment, with new claim applications having to pass full European Food Safety Authority scrutiny to gain addition to the registry.

In regard to nutrient profiling, a compromise position was reached allowing foods to make nutrition claims even if an unhealthy nutrient such as salt, sugar or fat "exceeded the limit laid down for that food in the nutritional profile." This breach would have to be "clearly marked on the label," but only one such nutrient could exceed the limit.

"This regulation started life as a bureaucratic leviathan and whilst improved upon during its three years of scrutiny, will still be a painful headache for food manufacturers across Europe," said Chris Whitehouse, managing director of Brussels-based lobbyist The Whitehouse Consultancy.

The Fortified Foods Regulation also won a majority at its second reading. It establishes a positive list of vitamins and minerals that can be added to food, as well as criteria for setting maximum and minimum levels of these nutrients. Products have three years to comply with the regulation once it comes into force.

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