Food Law News - EU - 2003

Commission Memo (MEMO/03/249), 3 December 2003

CLAIMS - Nutritional and health claims on food - Council discussions

Health and Consumer Affairs: Results of the Council meeting, Brussels, 1-2 December 2003

Ministers approved a progress report (see below) prepared by the Council secretariat on the Commission's proposal for a Regulation on nutrition and health claims made on foods (see IP/03/1022). As consumers have become increasingly concerned about what they eat and how this affects their health, the food industry has responded by providing more detailed nutrition labelling and often making claims about the beneficial effects of certain foods. The existing EU rules on labelling and nutrition labelling, which do not define conditions for the use of nutrition claims and do not allow health claims to be made, are often not properly enforced. Consumers can therefore be misled by claims that have not been properly substantiated. The proposed Regulation would give legal security and address these issues by specifying the conditions for the use of nutrition and health claims, prohibiting certain claims and scientifically evaluating the use of claims in relation to the nutritional profile of foods. No food product will as a consequence be prohibited but claims on food products will have a true meaning for the consumer.

Copy of the Council's Progress Report

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on nutrition and health claims made on foods - Progress report

  1. Owing to the proliferation of the number and type of nutritional and health claims appearing on the labels of foods and in the absence of specific provisions at European level, some Member States have adopted legislation and other measures to regulate their use. This has resulted in different approaches and in numerous discrepancies both regarding the definition of the terms used and the conditions warranting the use of claims. Some of the claims, if not duly assessed, may give rise to health concerns, in addition the discrepancies existing at Community level can constitute obstacles to the free movement of foods and the proper functioning of the internal market. For these reasons, the Commission submitted to the Council the above proposal for a Regulation which covers nutrition and health claims used in the labelling, presentation and advertising of foods and aims at setting conditions for the use of such claims.

    The main objectives of this proposal are to achieve a high level of consumer protection by ensuring that they receive appropriate information and that the claims are duly assessed, to improve the free movement of goods within the internal market, to increase legal security for economic operators, to ensure fair competition in the area of foods and to promote as well as protect innovation in the area of foods.

  2. Following a detailed presentation by the Commission, a first reading of the proposal by the Working Party on Foodstuffs has been finalised.
  3. Delegations welcomed the Commission's initiative and generally supported the principle of the proposal.

    On the basis of the first discussions, it appears however that additional examination by the Working Party will be necessary to address the outstanding issues with the attention they deserve.

    Pending the finalisation of their internal consultations, some delegations maintained at this stage a general scrutiny reservation. One delegation also had a parliamentary reservation, while another pointed out that the proposal would involve a change of its constitution, as the proposed mechanism of authorisation of the claim seems to be in contradiction with the freedom of expression which its constitution guarantees.

    Some delegations noted that the scope of this proposal should be examined further, since it covers (labelling, presentation and advertising of foods to be delivered as such to the final consumer) a very broad field. It was also noted that some definitions, notably of "nutrient" and "other substance", should be refined.

    Some delegations had, at this stage, some difficulties to endorse the concepts of Article 4 on the restrictions on the use of nutritional and health claims, particularly as regards the "nutrient profiles", while others considered that this could be clarified

    Article 11, which deals with the implied health claims, was also subject to a number of reservations/remarks by delegations as it is considered too vague and at the same time too prescriptive.

    Some delegations also considered that the mechanism of authorisation (Articles 14 to 17) should be in line with similar procedures (such as the ones for the authorisation of genetically modified food and feed). Some considered that the procedures should be proportionate to the objectives of the text, notably as regards of the use provisions for the use of languages. Furthermore, some delegations suggested additional claims as well as technical modifications of the claims in the Annex to the proposal.

  4. The Permanent Representatives Committee and the Council will be kept informed of the progress made in the examination which will be pursued actively with a view to arrive as soon as possible at the adoption of this Regulation.

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