Tesco is lobbying the European Commission to amend the controversial Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation to allow references to glycaemic index (GI) on food labels.
If the terms 'low-GI' and 'medium-GI' are not added to the annex of permitted nutrition claims in the Regulation, manufacturers will have to remove such labels by January 2010, said Tesco nutritionist Karen Tonk. "It's frustrating. We have built up some real momentum around GI in the UK, but, because it hasn't caught on to the same extent elsewhere in Europe, it wasn't on the radar when this legislation was being drawn up, despite representations from industry."
The other option was getting a reference to low-GI and sustained energy release, or products that made consumers "feel fuller for longer", on to the 'article 13' list of claims supported by generally accepted science under the new Regulation, she said.
However, it is not clear whether such claims would be allowed for any product that tested as low-GI, or whether they would be allowed only on products containing specific ingredients that had gone through the authorisation procedure in the Regulation.
Many scientists believe that foods that help people to manage their blood glucose more effectively can help them control their weight and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.
However, GI was a difficult concept for consumers to understand, said Thomas Draguhn, business development manager for nutritional sweeteners at ingredients giant Cargill.
"We have the evidence to back up claims about how our products can help reduce glycaemic response. The challenge is finding ways of talking about it that the consumer can grasp."
Cargill will launch pan-European research into consumer understanding of glycaemic response this year, he added. "We want to test understanding of phrases like 'sustained energy release', 'slow carbs' and 'insulin response'."