Five years ago the European Union nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) became law. Around the bloc, hopeful EU healthy foods and supplements stakeholders submitted more than 44,000 health claim applications.
Just 222 of them are likely to be approved. About 2000 from that original list will enter a rejected claims register. That’s a lot of no and not so much yes for what is known as the general function, article 13 health claims list.
And who will be the final arbiters of that? Politicians. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to be precise. 736 of them.
After all these years, the biggest and most important part of the most amended and possibly most controversial piece of food legislation in EU food law history has been sent to Strasbourg on the French-German border where 736 MEPs will vote on whether it is a good draft regulation and make it law. Or not.
Chances are they will say it is good law, much to the chagrin of smaller healthy food-supplement makers and ingredient suppliers dead worried about what kind of effect 2000 rejected health claims is going to have on their business. Those most affected know who they are and are the most afraid. They should be afraid. Very afraid.
For whom the bell tolls
It is not for this publication to question EU law-making processes, but it’s a process that does throw up interesting questions especially in regard to highly technical and scientific pieces of regulation like the NHCR.
Of those 736 MEPs perhaps less than 20% of them have even a basic understanding of the workings of the of NHCR, and the complex scientific issues at its centre.
This is not to blame them, just a reflection of politics. They are very busy people. There are many issues.
Yet, not long into the new year, these elected men and women of the 500m-strong EU bloc will determine the future of healthy food marketing in the EU and beyond, with so many jurisdictions watching what happens here in the Old Worlde new claims regime.
The concerns about that of those opposed to it were summed up by Robert Verkerk, PhD, the chief of the most vocal opponent of the regulation - the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) - who reflected recently:
“The trouble for European consumers is that the final decisions will now be made by people, for example in the European Commission, Ministers in Council who tend to nod through whatever the Commission want, and European Parliament, who are — frankly speaking — not qualified to be able to properly appraise the quality of EFSA’s science or understand the nutritional and health implications of greenlighting this existing health claims list.”
So that’s there where this whole sorry mess is at and that is why the lobbying is intensifying. There are many innocents to educate! Pro-regulation groups like the pan-European Big Food representatives, Food and Drink Europe, are getting active to ‘send it to the lawbooks’.
Refuseniks or amendniks like the SME-dominated EHPM (the European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers) and the ANH are mounting campaigns of their own, with anti-regulation MEPs like the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats’ Irish MEP, Marian Harkin, becoming increasingly vocal against the NHCR.
But Harkin’s own party of about 80 MEPs has no line on it and nor does any other. It is unlikely there will be any partisan voting when the final hammer goes down in Strasbourg around February-time.
Those who think the time-strapped ‘MEP innocents’ will just rubber-stamp the draft regulation sent them by the European Commission, may want to consider that earlier this year a European Parliament vote on a controversial, positive, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) omega-3, infant formula claim was almost overturned after fierce lobbying from the pro-breast milk camp.
It can be done. But will it be done? And will the will of the people be done?
Lobbyists, start your engines [to Tweetdeck!]…
Shane Starling is the editor of NutraIngredients and FoodNavigator-Asia and has been writing about the nutrition industry for more than 10 years. He thinks SWOTing MEPs should read NutraIngredients for the most comprehensive and detailed coverage of the NHCR going.