Call for more food consumption data

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Accurate data on people’s diets is required to ensure effective risk assessment of people’s exposure to certain nutrients and formulate food-related health policy, concluded a stakeholder workshop last week.

“If we want to know what is the best amount to eat of some nutrients, we need to know what people actually eat and compare the different health outcomes of different intake amounts,” said Dr. Loek Pijls, a senior scientist at the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI Europe). 

The workshop, organised by the European salt producers association (EuSalt) on 6 May, aimed to start a debate on the need for comparable EU level data on people’s food consumption before formulating health policies and nutrient intake recommendations.

Current policies in the field are “running faster than science,” noted EuSalt’s managing director, Wouter Lox. Beate Kettlitz, the director of food policy, science and R&D at CIAA, the confederation of European food and drink industries, agreed by saying “policymakers impose rules before having the outcomes of research and the data”. 

“Intake data are supposed to tell us what people actually eat,” said Pijls, adding: “When we know what we eat and relate this to health outcomes, we gain an insight into what the optimal amounts of certain components in our diet are.” 

Asked whether there is a need for EU harmonisation on dietary intake data, food science and technology professor André Huyghebaert of the University of Ghent said a common EU-level setting is needed even though national authorities have the biggest role to play on the issue. 

However, some participants were more sceptical, arguing that Europeans’ consumption patterns – linked for example to culture, age or sex – vary so much that it will always be very difficult to formulate common EU-level recommendations on the issue. But harmonising intake methodology and data collection could lead to more accurate food consumption data and long term health policies, they said.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recognised the importance of comparable national-level data on the intake of different nutrients.

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