There is still "absolutely no consensus" about the criteria that should underpin the nutrient profiling system enshrined in the European Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, according to regulatory experts.
In order to fulfil its obligations under the regulation, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has just 14 months remaining to finalise a profiling system that will comprehensively define the conditions for making health claims for food and drink products.
However, scientists who met to debate the various schemes at the EFSA HQ in Parma, Italy, last month did not reach any agreement, said Guy Valkenborg, director at food law consultancy European Advisory Services.
Valkenborg, who was speaking at the Healthy Foods Summit in London, said participants had discussed a variety of approaches. These included the controversial system underpinning new UK food and drink advertising rules to children; a Belgian system based on calories; plus a system used internally by consumer products giant Unilever to screen new product concepts.
However, there were still major disagreements over whether the nutrition and health rules should compare all foods or whether it should judge them on a category by category basis.
Participants were also unable to agree on whether they should assess foods by portion size or weight or whether categories such as vegetable oils, spreadable fats and dairy products should be treated separately, claimed Valkenborg.
Many nutritionists and legal experts remain deeply sceptical about the concept of nutrient profiling, whether it is based on overall nutrient scores or on thresholds for certain 'bad' ingredients, such as saturated fat.
Klaske de Jonge, corporate communications director for Mars Europe, attacked the concept for being unscientific, counter-productive and "deeply demotivating" for food manufacturers.
"We feel strongly that the regulation has gone too far," she said. If a one-size-fits-all approach were adopted, Mars would be unable to make any claims about the health benefits of its polyphenol-rich dark chocolate, she added. "We are lobbying for a system that will enable shoppers to compare similar products and identify the healthier ones within a category."