Press release

Food safety: MEPs vote on health claims and additions to food

Food safety - 16-05-2006 - 15:03
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Man reading canned food label in supermarket aisle

MEPs get tough on food label claims

MEPs approved tougher rules for foods claiming to provide nutritional and health benefits. They want clear definitions for claims that foods are "low energy", "low fat", "high fibre" or even "reduce cholesterol". The European Parliament also looked at harmonising national rules on the addition of vitamins and minerals to foods in order to improve consumer protection and the free circulation of goods within the EU.

The first report aims to harmonise the provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States which relate to nutrition and health claims in order to ensure the affective functioning of the internal market whilst providing a high level of consumer protection.
The House adopted a legislative report by Adriana POLI BORTONE (UEN, IT) on nutrition and health claims made on foods. Agreement was reached between Parliament and the Austrian presidency on food health and nutritional claims. The key idea of the regulation is that there should be clear definitions for claims such as "low energy", "low fat", "high fibre" or even "reduces cholesterol".
Agreement between Council and Parliament at second reading
The EP / Council deal reinstates Article 4.  The compromise states that nutritional profiles - the appropriate ratios of salt, sugar and fat in any given product - will be laid down by the Commission in consultation with the food industry and consumer bodies on the basis of information provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
A producer can make a claim concerning one of the three ingredients (fat, sugar, salt - known as "profiles") if the other two ingredients also comply with the regulation or if it is clearly stated that the product has a "high content" of these ingredients.
Drinks containing over 1.2% of alcohol may not give as their only health claim the descriptions "reduction of energy content" or "low alcohol levels".
In the absence of specific Community rules regarding nutrition claims referring to "low alcohol levels" or "the reduction or absence of alcohol" or "energy content", relevant national rules may apply.
Accelerated procedure
A register of health claims authorised so far is to be compiled, allowing manufacturers who wish to introduce a product with a particular health claim to simply consult the register in order to know the rules to be observed and not to have to go through the authorisation process itself.
When a producer lodges an application, EFSA must give its opinion within 5 months.  If the Agency demands further information from the applicant, a further 2 months is allowed.
Further points of the compromise
- fresh food such as fruit, vegetables and bread are excluded from the regulation; national rules will apply until (and if) Community standards are adopted
- trademarks: these products can continue to be marketed for 15 years after the regulation's entry into force;
- foods used in a Member State before 1 January 2006 which are not included in the annex can continue to be used for 3 years after the regulation enters into force;
Other gains made by Parliament
- support for SMEs to help with comply with the regulation;
- products for children will be subject to the "authorisation" procedure.
Vitamins and minerals in food - agreement reached
MEPs adopted a second legislative report on vitamins and minerals in food. Agreement was reached with the Council which means the regulation can enter into force swiftly. The aim of the regulation is to harmonise divergent national rules concerning the addition of vitamins and minerals and of certain other substances to foods in order to ensure a high level of consumer protection and the free circulation of goods within the Community.
An agreement was reached with the Council, on Wednesday 10 May, on the report by Karin SCHEELE (PES, AT) on the addition of vitamins, minerals and certain other substances to foods. Five compromise amendments were agreed.
The amendments deal with the following subjects:
- the definition of “other substances”
- the extension of deadlines: the Commission must submit, within 2 years of the regulation’s entry into force, a proposal on maximum levels of vitamins and mineral substances that can be added to foods
-  foods on the market before the regulation’s entry into force can continue to be sold up to the last day of the 35th month following its entry into force.
The addition of vitamins and minerals is banned in some Member States but allowed in others, with various restrictions. These different national rules mean it is sometimes difficult for “enriched” products to be sold freely in the EU single market. The purpose of the new regulation is to lay down standard EU rules.
The regulation sets out a positive list of over 100 forumulae for vitamins and minerals that can be added to foods.  However, it bans their addition to unprocessed fresh foods such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish as well as drinks and products with 1.2% alcohol by volume.
On 26 May 2005 Parliament adopted 46 amendments at first reading. These included a requirement for manufacturers to indicate the recommended daily intake of a product and warnings about exceeding such limits.
In December 2005, the Council adopted its common position, in which it did not accept some of Parliament’s main amendments.  At the Environment Committee's second reading, MEPs voted by a large majority to reinstate these amendments.
Karin Scheele’s report stresses firstly that any vitamins and minerals added must be “bioavailable”, in other words capable of being used by the body.  Otherwise it would be misleading for the consumer and in extreme cases "could result in adverse affects on health". Although the Council has inserted a reference to the bio-availability of substances in the recitals (the preamble), it is still necessary to stipulate this in one of the articles of the legislation.
If absorbed in excessive amounts, vitamins and minerals can have damaging effects on health. Maximum safe levels therefore need to be laid down if they are to be added to food.
It is already planned that the food additives directive will lay down maximum levels but the relevant figures are not yet available.   The report says that information for the consumer must be “easy to understand and useful”.  It must give all relevant details needed to prevent excessive amounts of vitamins and minerals being ingested.  The Commission is therefore urged, before adding the figures, to consult those concerned, including the food industry and consumer groups.
REF.: 20060512IPR08047