With the European Union’s strict health food and supplement marketing laws in place, the European Commission’s food law unit head, Basil Mathioudakis, tells NutraIngredients why it’s generally working out fine… but don’t hold your breath over a hasty resolution of key on-hold issues.
Speaking after giving a keynote address at a food supplements congress in Brussels, Belgium, last week, Mathioudakis gave no indication as to how the treatment of 2078 on-hold botanical health claims might be resolved, nor when maximum permitted levels (MPL) for nutrients in food supplements or nutrient profiles in foods may be resolved.
NHCR: “I think it is a good result”
He defended the role of the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) in ensuring that food marketing was responsible and scientifically verified in the EU’s 27 member states.
“The criteria were decided by co-legislators – by the European Council and the European Parliament and we have tried to apply them, with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), as close to the letter of the law as possible. I think it is a good result,” he said.
“You cannot build a sustainable food industry on misleading health claims.”
He added: “I think that the balance is positive both for the benefit of the consumers who are going to be protected from misleading claims but also it is very important for fair competition among food business operators. I think there are benefits from the application of that legislation.”
On the massive job of enforcing the regulation, Mathioudakis said the EC was working with member states.
“We encourage the member states to enforce the law to the best of their abilities. We will be asking for regular reports as to how things are proceeding because at a certain stage we will have to produce a report as to the effects of applying the regulation.”
On other matters within and without the NHCR Mathioudakis could offer little concrete, or answer concerns about how new Health commissioner, Tonio Borg, may differ from his predecessor, John Dalli, on crucial matters of food law.
“[John Dalli] had certain priorities depending on many considerations, there were quite a lot of hot issues so he made some priorities as to what to tackle. We’ll have to see whether the new commissioner has different priorities but for now the issues on his table don’t include maximum levels.”
Sections of the UK supplements industry have reinvigorated a campaign against EU MPL harmonisation as lobbying intensifies around Borg’s appointment.
It was a battle it won while Dalli was in charge, but Mathioudakis was keen to highlight the UK’s position within the broader EU bloc.
“You have to be careful when you talk about the UK food industry because it is unique with its high levels,” Mathioudakis said. "But even sections of the UK industry would favour the setting of harmonised maximum levels.”
He added: “Every commissioner decides the priorities of the subjects that have to be tackled. Resources are diminishing in every public service including the Commission. Therefore the choice of priorities is more and more important.”
What of 2078 on-hold botanical health claim applications?
“The difference is that they are subject to a different treatment in another area – in the area of medicinal products. There, there has been a differentiation for botanicals to bear health indications in line with traditional use.”
“Reflection by the previous commissioner was whether this was justified only for the medicinal area or whether it should be allowed for the food area too. The reflection is not finished. When the commissioner is going to decide what to do about botanicals I cannot say.”
The same went for long overdue nutrient profiles, he said of the unresolved aspect of the NHCR that will determine which products are able to bear health claims,