IADSA briefs

EC looks to publish novel foods catalogue
While the proposals to revise the Novel Food Regulations (applicable to food ingredients not used to a significant degree in foods legally sold in the European Union before May l997) are under discussion, the European Commission is intending to publish an informal 'Novel foods catalogue' that was discussed at a recent meeting of the Standing Committee composed by the European Commission and the Member States of the European Union. The catalogue was described as '?a non-exhaustive list of products of plant or animal origin as well as of other substances which have been considered only in relation to their status within the meaning of the Novel Food Regulations'. The Commission intends to publish the catalogue by the end of this year.

The European associations, EHPM and ERNA have had sight of a current version of the draft catalogue and a meeting with the Commission is being sought to discuss issues of concern. In the meantime, a clear message has been delivered to the Commission that:

  • There has been no consultation with industry on the content of the catalogue (it contains many plants currently included in the positive lists of a number of Member States, including Belgium, the Czech Republic and Italy)
  • If it is published, it will have significant commercial implications
  • There is no indication of the criteria used to establish the document.

European Parliament seeks tougher additive regulation
Following a first reading, the European Parliament (EP) has voted through four regulations relating to food ingredients: on authorisation procedures, additives, enzymes and flavourings — all of them amendments aimed at strengthening and streamlining existing regulation in this area.

More transparency on decisions on authorisation procedures is sought, and the environmental aspects of chemicals is to be taken into account, together with enhanced protection for consumers with food intolerances, and the flagging of additives whose production has involved genetically modified organisms. Flavourings are only to be used if there is technological need, enzymes only if they do not mislead as to the quality of the product. One welcome amendment for industry is the proposed protection for 5 years of scientific data submitted to gain approval.

The second reading on these amendments is expected to take place in autumn 2007.

United Kingdom
Study shows consumers confused by claims
The UK Food Standards Agency has recently published a study on consumer understanding of health claims.

Amongst the key findings were:

  • consumers are sceptical about claims on food labels, seeing them as attempts at marketing — but equally, consumers are influenced by such claims
  • claims are more likely to be interpreted accurately if the consumer is familiar with the nutrient referred to. Simple, brief claims are likely to be better understood.
  • There is considerable contradiction in the research as to which claims are most accurately understood. Words such as 'may' are sometimes regarded as clear, sometime not.
  • Health claims cause consumers the most confusion in terms of interpretation and understanding.
  • Disclaimers are not popular, often confusing consumers as they appear to contradict the claim rather than qualify it.
  • Brands and brand attributes such as colours and logos are crucial to consumer understanding, trust and acceptance of health claims.
  • Consumers do not categorize claims into nutrient, health or disease risk reduction claims, and do not always understand the difference.

UK data confirms non-novel status of goji berries
Further to the report in last month's Newsflash, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has now confirmed that Goji berries are not to be classified as a 'novel food'.

Evidence collated by the Health Food Manufacturers Association (HFMA) including the sale of the berries in Chinese food stores, their use in soft and alcoholic drinks, published recipes including the berries, plus a Belgian decree and a German decision classifying the berries as foods was deemed sufficient by the FSA to confirm their non-novel food status.

Discussion on supplement levels continues
Following industry concerns at the proposal from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) for a 1 x RDA maximum level for vitamins and minerals, further discussions between EHPM Scientific Advisor Dr. Derek Shrimpton, the Irish Health Trade Association (IHTA) and the Irish authorities have been held. Several amendments to sections of the FSAI's response were suggested, and the importance of the role of risk assessment was emphasized.

While it is understood that FSAI, who had previously said that they would be 'guided by science', are unlikely to amend their submitted position paper at this stage, it is hoped that they may yet consider adjustments to their position as discussions on maximum levels reach their final stage. Complementing industry action, the Irish Association of Health Stores has launched a campaign aimed at protecting the rights of Irish consumers to buy high strength food supplements.

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