The European Parliament yesterday (11 June) adopted new rules on the labelling and content of baby milks and foods for special medical purposes. These will in the future be better defined in order to protect consumers.
The Parliament report, adopted yesterday, recommended better protection for vulnerable consumers, such as infants, young children and seriously ill people and distinguishes more clearly between foods for normal consumption and foods for specific groups.
The new rules have already been agreed with the 27 EU member states in the Council of Ministers, meaning its formal adoption will be only a formality.
Milks for babies up to the age of 12 months including follow-on formula will not include any pictures of infants or other pictures that might suggest specific health benefits under the new rules. The report also calls for a review of legislation for milk for children aged 12-36 months 'growing-up milks' and suggests new rules should be implemented.
Special gluten and lactose labelling rules will also help to inform those purchasing these products in case of specific allergies.
Belgian MEP Fréderique Ries, who drafted the report for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), emphasised it is the legislators' duty to set more stringent rules to define the composition and labelling of foodstuffs that are for vulnerable consumers.
"It was urgent to make a complete review of the old 1977 legislation which is completely obsolete given the reality of the market today. The market is a jungle where we want to clearly differentiate between those specific foods for them, and other foodstuffs such as athletic foods and diet foods which do not deserve this special status," the MEP added.
The report also aims to ensure that pesticide residues in these products are reduced to a minimum so as to reduce the risk of physiological sensitivity of young children.
And it includes an exclusive list of substances such as vitamins and minerals that can be added to these foods.
Ruth Veale, head of the Food, Health, Environment and Safety Department at the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC) told EURACTIV that, thanks to the vote, the food industry will no longer be able to get round the EU Claims Regulation by marketing their food as being for special medical purposes when it suits them.
"Of course, while we would have liked it to have gone further on slimming food and the marketing of infant foods, we are pleased that it will result in an evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) of the so-called 'growing up' milks," Veale said.
"It is high time these products are not proclaimed as having additional benefits for toddlers if they have no extra added value than regular milk and are sold at a much higher price,” the consumer representative said.