strasbourg plenary vote

MEPs block 4 caffeine claims

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

We will not let our children and youngsters be misguided about the food and drinks they consume, says MEP behind the motion. ©
We will not let our children and youngsters be misguided about the food and drinks they consume, says MEP behind the motion. ©

Related tags Health claims Caffeine

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have voted to veto four caffeine health claims following a lively debate on energy drinks in a Strasbourg plenary today. 

Reacting to the decision, Hungarian MEP Krisztina Morvai said today the vote was about “more than it seems to be about”​ and urged a look at the “state of the health of the EU”.​ 

“The capitalists give poisons to the kids and the kids are in a state of mind that they take those poisons.”  ​ 

Danish Socialist MEP Christel Schaldemose tabled the motion​, which called on the European Commission to withdraw its draft regulation​ approving the four claims and to consider restrictions on the marketing of energy drinks to children and adolescents. 

With Parliament backing now secured, the Commission will now be forced to withdraw the proposal altogether or come up with a new proposal. 

The motion also originally contained an appeal to “immediately”​ begin work on establishing nutrient profiles, but this proved divisive and did not make it past a European Parliament’s Environment and Public Health Committee (ENVI) vote in June. It was therefore removed from the motion presented today.

The four claims that were set to be authorised were: 

  • “Caffeine contributes to an increase in endurance performance.”
  • “Caffeine contributes to an increase in endurance capacity.”
  • “Caffeine helps to increase alertness.”
  • “Caffeine helps to improve concentration.” ​ 

A fifth claim for the reduction in perceived exertion/effort during exercise has already been banned based on EFSA’s risk assessment findings.  ​ 

However this did not stop Schaldemose from urging the Commission to create the profiles in a parliamentary debate late last night (6 July). 

She insisted the profiles would not just be a red, green and yellow system on pack but a way of managing when health claims could be used. 

She acknowledged that the ENVI committee was not in agreement on this issue but concluded her speech saying: “But I am glad to see we can come together when it comes to protecting our children and our youngsters. 

“We will not have them misguided when it comes to the food and drinks they consume.”

Late- night debate​ 

In the debate at 22:30 last night, the issue of the claims was the last item on the agenda following hours of debates on heavy topics like human rights and democracy and the protection of whistle-blowers. 

Speaking in parliament, Christel Schaldemose said: “Most of us know the beneficial effects of a coffee or two, and many of us cannot be without the effects of coffee in the morning. But our objection is not about whether these proposed health claims are scientifically correct or not. 

“It’s not about whether caffeine is in fact ‘refreshing’ or not. It is against authorising these four health claims because we want to protect our children and young people.” 

The alertness and concentration claims​ came with the stipulated intakes of 75 mg caffeine per serving (warning not to exceed 300 mg per day). 

This came within the limits of EFSA's risk assessment​, which concluded 400 mg of caffeine a day and 200 mg in a single session ﴾two hours﴿ does not pose a health risk for general population adults.

Schaldemose said it took a “vast amount”​ of caffeine to be able to make the claims, meaning “basically we’re talking about allowing health claims on energy drinks” ​- although industry has said sports gels and caffeine pills as well as supplements with lower doses but for repeat consumption would also lose out if the claims were blocked. 

She said the claims should not be allowed to be made on energy drinks for two reasons: the vast amount of sugar they contain – up to 27 grams per can – coupled with the fact that the drinks are largely consumed by teenagers and even by some children under 12 despite on-pack warnings for children and pregnant women. 

2013 European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report​found 68% of adolescents aged 10-18 years and 18% of children aged 3-10 years were “consumers of” ​energy drinks. 

Commission’s defence​ 

Yet the Commission defended its attempt to pass the four claims following a safety opinion from EFSA​, saying they were “urgently needed”​ and they would be “beneficial” ​for consumers and provide a “level the playing field” ​for industry. 

“I would invite you to consider the possible consequences of not deciding now. Until a new decision is taken, these caffeine claims would be continued to be used by any food business operator on the EU market without any specific conditions or restrictions for their use,”​ said Jyrki Tapani Katainen, a Finnish politician and the Commission’s vice-president for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness. 

“In fact, far from promoting the caffeine intake in the population, the authorisation of the four scientifically substantiated claims will properly frame the use of these claims.” 

The full debate last night can be watched HERE​. 

Stay tuned for industry reaction. 

Related topics Regulation & safety Tea & coffee

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