As the Regulation entered into force on 1 July 2007, food-industry officials have highlighted the need to ensure that the EFSA has the necessary resources to swiftly deal with all the claims dossiers it will receive in order to prevent long delays.
The European Snacks Association (ESA) is urging the Commission to give some kind of encouragement that the industry can keep on investing in innovation with the aim of introducing reformulated products, including products reduced in fat, saturated fat and/or salt, onto the market.
"Currently, there's still a degree of uncertainty within what we know so far about how the process is going to work. There's still a possibility that whole categories, such as savoury snacks, confectionary and soft drinks, might be exempt from making any claims whatsoever. That is why we were against the establishment of nutrient profiles in the first place. Once such a categorisation is made, it may be used in the future for things like additional taxation measures and further restrictions on advertising or promotion of our goods," said Stave Chandler, ESA secretary-general.
"As an industry, we have spent a lot of time and resources in terms of developing new ingredients, and new technologies bringing new products to market. At the end of the day, we need to be able to get consumers to be aware of these products and if we're not allowed to do so it is a big problem for us, as well as for the consumers as they will not know about our 'better for you' products carrying a reduction claim [such as 30% reduced in sugar or fat]," he added pledging for the need to allow the savoury-snacks sector to make reduction claims.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) points out that "the regulations will make it harder for retailers and manufacturers to make recipes healthier by, for example reducing salt or fat. Products can only be labelled 'reduced fat' or 'reduced salt' if the content is 25 or 30% less than in a previous product that is still available. This change does nothing to help customers make healthier choices. Producers often make reductions in stages to allow customers time to adapt and customers need labelling that explains a noticeable difference in the taste of a product has arisen because it has been made healthier."
A European Basic Foods Platform, launched in February 2007, aims to ensure that "the inherent characteristics of basic foods [such as dairy products, vegetable oils, sugar, flours, meat, eggs and fish] are acknowledged by the EU legislator". The platform strongly believes that the new regulation on nutrition and health claims should authorise basic foods to claim scientifically recognised health benefits of particular nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids.
The European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC) welcomed the fact that new, previously unknown, claims will have to be substantiated before they can be used in marketing. "We are pleased that health claims will be phased out for sugary, fatty and salty foods," said BEUC Director Jim Murray. BEUC also believes that nutrient profiles could be applied to health and nutrition claims, fortification, marketing of foods to children, shape and support nutritional policy, and improve the content of vending machines.
Reactions to the final Council-Parliament compromise on the nutrition and health claims regulation:
The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) "mildly welcomes" the compromise. It says that "European SME producers will now have to deal with additional registration procedures through the EFSA if they wish to inform consumers on the nutritional benefits of their foodstuffs. This will increase the bureaucratic burden, limit the number of possible claims and ultimately reduce the amount of information that is available for the consumer," said UEAPME Adviser on Food issues, Ludger Fischer.
"This legislation will guarantee truthful and science-backed information for European consumers. Food labels have a huge influence over consumers' choices and it is only reasonable to expect that the claims on them are not false or misleading. [...] It will also create a fairer market for producers making genuine and substantiated health or nutrition claims. Like any compromise, each side would have liked to go further, but this is a good compromise which takes account of all positions in a balanced way," said Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Kyprianou.
To see initial stakeholder views on the issue expressed in a public hearing held in the European Parliament on 8 January 2004 click here.