Rules on the labelling and contents of baby milks and food for people with special medical needs must be better defined to protect consumers and give clarity to the food industry, according to MEPs voting on legislation in the Public Health and Food Safety Committee on Wednesday. The special rules should also cover gluten intolerance and certain low calorie diets, they say.
"I welcome today's vote, which shows we have a clear goal to protect the more vulnerable members of our society, including infants and those with special medical needs. I particularly welcome the specific provisions for people affected by celiac disease, since intolerance to gluten can be lethal", said Frédérique Ries (ALDE, BE), after her report was unanimously adopted with 62 votes in favour and no abstentions.
The draft text will replace several existing pieces of legislation in order to streamline and clarify labelling and composition rules, which cover products representing around 1-2% of the total food market. The update was proposed due to problems faced by both consumers and authorities in distinguishing between foods for normal consumption and those for specific groups.
The labelling, presentation and advertising of these foods must be "accurate, clear and easy to understand for consumers", must not be misleading and should not make medical claims, say MEPs.
In future, the labelling of all milk formulae for babies up to 12 months (including 'follow-on' formulae) should not include pictures of babies or images that "idealise the use" of the product, say MEPs.
The committee says the Commission should review the currently complex legal situation on milks aimed at children between 12-36 months (so-called 'growing-up milks') and propose new rules if needed.
MEPs are concerned about increasing numbers of food products making slimming claims. A majority of MEPs say that the new rules should cover energy-restricted diets that are designed to replace a person's daily food intake or strict diets for obese people. These include 'low calorie diets' (800-1200 calories per day) and 'very low calorie diets' (400-800 calories). Statements on diet foods aimed at the general population should be regulated by the 2006 health claims regulation.
The committee recommended that special gluten labelling rules should be included in this legislation. Food products intended for people with gluten intolerance should contain less than 100 mg gluten per kg to be labelled as having "very low gluten content" and less than 20 mg of gluten per kg to be "gluten free".
MEPs say the Commission should prepare a study with a view to addressing the lack of specific rules for lactose intolerance.
Food business operators will need to notify authorities regarding products covered by this legislation. Authorities should ensure there is post-market monitoring to make sure the rules are respected.
A plenary vote is provisionally planned for the 21-24 May session.
In the Chair: Matthias Groote (S&D, DE)