MEPs back pro-industry amendments to health claims law

Related tags Health claims European union

The European Parliament voted yesterday to radically modify the
proposed regulation on nutrition and health claims so that food
companies do not need to gain prior authorization for claims, nor
subject their healtlh products to nutrient profiling, reports
Dominique Patton.

The resolution, which largely supported all amendments to the draft law made by the environment committee in the build-up to the first parliamentary reading, was adopted by a clear majority. Four hundred and fifty-eight MEPs voted in favour of the changes, compared to only 116 against and 15 abstentions.

The amendment deleting the nutrient profiles required by article four - considered the cornerstone of the new law by consumer groups - was adopted by 303 votes in favour, 286 against and 10 abstentions.

"It's a strong message to the Council and Commission that this is not acceptable and they have to revise their approach,"​ said Lorène Courrège, director of regulatory affairs at the European Health Product Manufacturers' association (EHPM).

Another key amendment adopted by Parliament calls for a simple notification procedure for companies wishing to make nutrition and health claims on labeling. The Commission draft had proposed that all nutrition and health claims must be approved by European food safety authorities prior to the product reaching the market.

"The Parliament has quite rightly overturned the principle of prior approval for both nutrition and health claims, something that would have meant each and every food operator making a claim in any of the 25 EU member countries would have been required to submit dossiers of evidence in all 20 community languages,"​ commented industry lobbyist Chris Whitehouse.

"That is frankly ridiculous, and the Parliament has sensibly and commendably done something to stop it,"​ he said.

Under the amendment backed by MEPs, companies would only have to inform EU authorities when they plan to start selling a product making claims. The Commission would then have up to three months to assess whether the product is sufficiently supported by science or whether it needs to be referred it to EFSA.

A resolution at the first reading does not mean that these amendments will become part of the new law however. In the next stage of the European lawmaking process, the Council, representing each member state government, issues its common position. Council talks, due to conclude on 3 June, are however expected to result in a position significantly different from that of the parliament.

"Article four is going to be a bone of contention with the Council and Commission. It will then go to a second reading in parliament and if the two sides cannot agree, the law will have to go through a conciliation procedure,"​ explained Courrege.

"There could be a few changes [to the amendments adopted yesterday],"​ she told NutraIngredients.com.

It is highly likely that the deletion of article four will not be accepted by the Council or Commission, and consumer groups lobbying governments will seek to ensure that nutritional profiling remains the basis for adding a health claim to food.

Jim Murray, director of the European Consumers Association BEUC​, said yesterday that the new European Parliament had "failed its first big consumer test".

But he added: "Fortunately, the position of the Council and the Commission are more enlightened and we turn to them to save the day for consumers. We will continue to fight to make sure that parents across the EU are no longer misled by health claims made on foods too high in fat, sugar or salt."

After the Commission considers the implications of both reports, the law is expected to go through a second reading in parliament at the end of the year.

Whitehouse believes that the Council do not intend to alter the regulation drastically, meaning that a great deal of negotiation lies ahead.

"There is still much to play for on this proposal since compromise often means some interests get overlooked. It is essential that all affected food operators engage with this process now,"​ he said.

The regulation is also key for food supplement makers, according to Courrege.

"This legislation is very important for food supplements. To sell such products, you have to describe what the product does and this is currently very difficult,"​ she explained.

A European regulation on food fortification

Parliament also voted yesterday to adopte a new European regulation that will establish positive lists of vitamins and minerals (more than 100 substances) that can be added to food.

The report by Karin Scheele (PES, AT) was adopted by the plenary by 516 votes in favour, 69 against and six abstentions.

The new regulation recommends defining daily intakes of specific substances. A negative list of 'other substances' added to food, mentioning only forbidden substances, will also be established.

Foods and beverages containing more than 1.2 per cent by volume of alcohol may not be fortified with an exception voted by MEPs concerning some traditional products marketed prior to the adoption of the regulation.

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