EP Daily Notebook, 26 May 2005
Parliament voted today, in first reading, on a draft regulation on nutrition and health claims made on foods. The plenary confirmed a controversial vote in the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, which decided to delete a central provision of the Regulation proposed by the European Commission. For the EP, foods bearing nutrition or health claims do not need to respect specific nutrient profiles. The report, written by Adriana POLI BORTONE (UEN, IT) and substantially modified by the plenary, was adopted by a clear majority. The legislative resolution was adopted by 458 votes in favour, 116 against and 15 abstentions. The amendment deleting the compulsory nutrient profiles was adopted by 303 votes in favour, 286 against and 10 abstentions.
More and more consumers want to eat healthy foods. And more and more producers use health and nutritional claims to attract them. This butter is good for your cholesterol or that yoghurt is recommended to avoid osteoporosis - is it true? And do those products have other and less positive effects? Some Member States have adopted national legislation to regulate the use of claims, others have not. Those discrepancies can act as commercial barriers in the single market and do not guarantee the best level of consumer protection. That is why this regulation was initiated in order to protect the consumer as well as to ensure free movement of foods in the EU. The Regulation lists a number of common claims like "light", "low fat" or "sugar-free", with the specific levels to respect in order to use them and with a general condition for every claim: to label the nutrient profile (especially the contents of fat, sugar and salt).
A minority of MEPs, as well as the European Commission and the health sector lobby deplored the Committee vote, considering that producers should not be allowed to highlight particular advantages of their products if they hide high contents of fat, sugar or salt which are involved in large scale illnesses like cardiovascular diseases or obesity. Some MEPs tried to restore the principle of nutrient profiles, article 4 of the proposed regulation, but did not succeed.
On the contrary, many producers and a majority of MEPs feared that the compulsory labelling of nutrient profiles could discriminate against individual products, which would be classified as "good" or "bad". They believe it is not so much the composition of the product that matters as the use made of it and above all the balance of a person's diet.
In any case, during the debate, Commissioner Markos KYPRIANOU said that he would not accept the deletion of article 4 which he considered as the cornerstone of the whole regulation.
The European Commission also proposed to submit the use of health claims to a prior authorisation system, involving the European Food Safety Agency. On this point the plenary has endorsed the Committee vote opting in favour of a simple notification procedure. Manufacturers or importers would only have to inform the authorities if they plan to start selling a product making nutritional claims. It would then be up to the authorities to object or issue a ban.
The EP has also stressed or added particular points to the draft regulation concerning small and medium size enterprises and children. In their view, nutrition and health claims, unless scientifically substantiated, may not be exclusively directed at children. MEPs also added specific provisions for SMEs to reduce the burden of the new regulation.