Over the last few years, the EU’s efforts on public health and food policy have focused on promoting healthy diets and active lifestyles. According to Eurostat, over half of the EU adult population is overweight.
The cornerstone of efforts to tackle this is the “Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system”.
One of the strategy’s main objectives is to revise EU rules on the food information provided to consumers, to help empower them make healthier and more sustainable food choices.
The European Commission has suggested amending the Food Information to Consumers (FIC) Regulation to tackle the consumption of products that are high in fats, sugars and/or salt (HFSS).
Specifically, it has proposed setting mandatory nutrient profiles to restrict the promotion - via nutrition and health claims - of HFSS foods. The Commission has also suggested introducing mandatory and harmonised Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling (FOPNL) obligations to ensure better labelling information.
Given the increasing prevalence of obesity in Europe, helping consumers eat better with appropriate information is of utmost importance.
"Any changes to food law and forthcoming changes in the FIC regulation need to be based on sound science and demonstrate consumer understanding"
However, any changes to food law and forthcoming changes in the FIC regulation need to be based on sound science and demonstrate consumer understanding.
They also need to take proper account of the nutritional needs of specific groups, as the European Parliament has clearly and forthrightly stated in its recently adopted own-initiative report on the Strategy.
A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to introducing and applying nutrient profiles and FOPNL obligations may hinder access to relevant nutritional information for active consumers.
An example is the dietary needs of people taking part in sports activities. Sports nutrition products are purposefully formulated with higher levels of certain nutrients (usually sodium or carbohydrates) to cater for the specific needs of individuals engaged in high-intensity exercise and other forms of activity.
Their health benefits are well documented in scientific literature; therefore, the setting of nutrient profiles on sports food and a blanket application of FOPNL may mean that the special compositional criteria of food intended for sportspeople are not adequately communicated; this may deprive consumers of valuable information regarding the benefits of these products.
Already this has been recognised by certain Member States. In March, French public health authority Santé Publique issued a Q&A document on the Nutri-Score (one of the preferred FOPNL schemes across Europe), advising against the use of this system on sports nutrition products.
"Without due attention to the related scientific literature and a clear understanding of nutrition, the objectives of the Farm to Fork Strategy could be hampered and a variety of specialist food sectors severely impacted"
It stated that Nutri-Score’s underlying nutrient profiling system was developed with the needs of the general population in mind, whereas sports nutrition must meet specific demands.
The current EU regulatory framework already supports a full understanding of specialist products’ composition and use.
In addition, with the help of education campaigns initiated by the food sector, consumers of specialist food products tend to be much more aware of what they are looking for, and they understand the conditions under which these products should be used.
Without due attention to the related scientific literature and a clear understanding of nutrition, the objectives of the Farm to Fork Strategy could be hampered and a variety of specialist food sectors severely impacted.
The European Parliament’s own initiative report called on the European Commission to ensure that “a mandatory and harmonised EU front-of-pack nutritional label is developed based on robust, independent scientific evidence and demonstrated consumer understanding, taking into account the additional burden to food operators and unions”.
Now, we need to make sure that these issues will be addressed sufficiently in the upcoming changes to EU food law.