DG Sanco has reignited the nutrient profiling debate by initiating a consultation with other parts of the European Commission to test support for it to set nutrient profiles under health claims legislation.
The Directorate General for Health & Consumers (DG Sanco) wants to proceed, but its director Eric Poudelet told the UEAPME, the association for craft, small and medium-sized enterprises: “With the financial crisis, someone can consider that the impact of nutrient profiles might be high – and negative – for micro and small enterprises.”
A spokesman for health and consumer policy at the European Commission told FoodNavigator: "I can confirm that DG SANCO is reflecting on this file. No timeline yet as regards when and how this file could be relaunched."
Nutrient profiling concerns establishing the levels of fat, salt, sugar and other nutrients allowable in products making nutrition and health claims.
Delayed by dissension
Although nutrient profiles were scheduled to have been established in 2009 under Article 4 of EU Regulation 1924/2006 on Nutrition and Health Claims, this has been delayed by dissension.
Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, deputy director of food policy at the British Retail Consortium, told FoodNavigator many of its members already imposed their own schemes for highlighting fat, salt and sugar content. These include traffic light labels, which use green, amber or red colours to denote the amount of nutrients in products, and Guideline Daily Amounts labels, which provide amounts as proportions of recommended daily intake.
Schemes could be overhauled
The fear is these schemes could be overhauled by EU nutrient profiling requirements, costing the industry thousands, possibly millions, of euros to rework packaging. Some products with Protected Designation of Origin status could not be reformulated to suit nutrient profiling law and there is therefore debate over whether these should be allowed to make claims by default, said Martinez-Inchausti.
Inconsistent arguments also abounded regarding how to apply nutrient profiling, she added: “Weetabix would go through [make claims] without a problem, but Weetabix with raisins would not [because of its higher sugar content] despite having no added sugar. There are an enormous amount of inconsistencies.”
Pizzas were also fraught with difficulty. “We have talked to the Commission about pizzas with different toppings. How would you establish if they are ready meals, meat products, vegetable products ..?”
Time and cash wasted?
DG Sanco fears the time and cash invested in establishing thresholds may be wasted if the principle falls through as a result of lack of support. Poudelet told UEAPME: “We do not want to work hard on thresholds and then see our proposal destroyed.”
UEAPME believes nutrient profiles have been “superseded” by the Food Information Regulation (EC 1169/2011). This demands that the amounts of energy, fat, saturates, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt shall be put prominently on all pre-packed food. It also stipulates voluntary information which can be given, such as starch and fibre content.
UEAPME position paper
“The Regulation goes into detail about how the manufacturer should calculate the average values,” says an UEAPME position paper. “In the light of this Regulation, which comes into force on December 13 2014 it is difficult to see how consumers would be better informed if there were to be nutrient profiles in addition.”
UEAPME spokesman Ludger Fischer said he would advise the Commission of this position as part of a report it will submit on the impact of the legislation. This report is due to be sent to the Commission by January 19 2013, but UEAPME said it could be delayed.
Meantime, consumer groups continue to lobby for nutrient profiling to address health concerns.