Officially, the list of nutrition claims (‘high fibre’, ‘low fat’ etc) permitted under the health claims Regulation came into force in January 19, 2010, meaning that claims not on the annex are now illegal.
However, UK trading standards officers have been advised to navigate through the legal limbo by temporarily allowing claims that are not on the annex, but are under consideration for inclusion by the European Commission, such as ‘now with 10% less fat’, for example.
In a report recently issued by Lacors (the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services), enforcement officers were advised to adopt a “flexible and pragmatic approach” to such claims: “Lacors is aware that technically speaking any nutrition claim not in the annex by January 19 is no longer permitted for use but is equally aware that many claims will be permitted when the annex is amended in due course.”
Officers were also advised that products bearing any rejected health claims “should be allowed to continue to be sold in line with the product shelf-life” and that the claim ‘extra light’ is “not a named claim in its own right and cannot be used as a comparative claim”.
UK manufacturers in particular have been lobbying hard for the nutrition claim “10% less fat/sugar/salt” to be added to the annex to reflect their reformulation efforts, as larger reductions are in many cases technically challenging or impossible. Currently, only 'reduced' claims are allowed on pack for firms making 25% or 30% reductions, which manufacturers say provides little incentive to make incremental changes.
Nestlé UK regulatory affairs manager Richard Wood told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the issue “keeps being tabled” at working group meetings, but had yet to be resolved. He added: “A lot of UK manufacturers support an ‘x% less’ claim but believe the minimum reduction to make the claim should be 10%, and not 15% as currently proposed.”
On the plus side, lobbying over the contents of the nutrition annex has had some success to date, with recent amendments allowing claims such as 'source of omega-3 fatty acids', and 'high unsaturated fat' to be included on the list, although other claims suggested by industry such as 'low-GI' have not been considered.
Piecemeal health claims approvals
As for health claims, Lacors noted that the “timetable for the review and adoption of these claims has slipped badly” and that the “consequences of piecemeal publication and adoption of opinions” would create “gross distortion of compliance across Europe”.
It added: “Lacors understands that companies with products containing multiple ingredients will likely face both multiple labelling and reformulation changes as each new set of EFSA opinions/batch of opinions are adopted. Lacors is also aware that regulators in a number of other EU Member States have recognised the practical and logistical difficulties faced by the industry and are adopting a pragmatic approach.”