Last week, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favour of new rules that would require firms to list 10 nutrients on pack, including ‘artificial’ and ‘natural’ trans fats, as part of a wider package of measures under the Food Information Regulation.
Trans fatty acids that occur naturally in foods such as milk and beef are classed as ‘natural’, while those produced during partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils to create semi-solid fats are dubbed ‘artificial’.
However, distinguishing between the two would present big headaches for trading standards officers, while highlighting them on labels could unnecessarily alarm some consumers, especially in the UK, where intakes are now well below recommended upper limits, regulatory affairs manager Richard Wood told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“If I were a trading standards officer it would be impossible for me to know whether the figures were right or wrong, so it’s completely unenforceable.
“But it’s also scaremongering, because while trans fats are not good for you, we are not consuming killer quantities, and I think labelling them would worry some people unnecessarily, especially in the UK, where intakes are well below recommended limits.
“But I also have practical concerns in terms of all the information we are now expected to get on pack.”
FDF director of food safety and science Barbara Gallani said many FDF members also shared Nestlé’s concerns: “We are disappointed that MEPs have called for the mandatory labelling of natural and artificial trans fats given the work our members have done to remove artificial trans fats from their products.”
She added: “Trans fats appear in only a relatively small number of products. In fact, new data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey indicate that in 2010 intakes are at even lower levels at 0.8% compared with 1% in 2000/2001.
“While manufacturers are cutting levels of trans fats, we want to dispel the myth that this is a major problem for the UK as trans fats consumption in the UK is well below the 2% upper limit recommended by the Department of Health.”
Traffic lights vs GDAs
Nestlé UK was also unhappy about the proposed wording to accompany GDA (guideline daily amount) figures because it was too specific and could potentially make people think that the figures did not apply to them, added Wood.
However, he welcomed the decision to select GDAs as the preferred method of front-of-pack nutrition labelling: “We also welcome the proposal to prevent other schemes such as traffic lights being allowed to run in parallel at a national level, as we are operating in a European market and you need to have consistency across markets.”
Unlike some other major food manufacturers, who oppose the equally controversial concept of nutrient profiling enshrined in the Food Information Regulation and the health claims Regulation, Nestlé was pleased that nutrient profiles had remained in the legislation, he claimed.
But the devil was in the detail, and there was still a lot of horse trading to come before the final version of the legislation were agreed, he predicted, as the Council and Parliament positions were “not in line”.
Once the legislation is adopted, food businesses will have three years to adapt to the rules. Those with fewer than 100 employees or an annual turnover of less than €5m will have five years to comply.
Calories on front-of-pack
The version approved to date requires companies to include energy, fat, saturated fat, sugars, salt, protein, carbohydrates, fibre, natural and artificial trans fats in mandatory nutrition labels.
MEPs also voted for:
• Calories to be listed on the front of pack in the bottom right hand corner in a font size of 3mm surrounded by a border
• GDA values to be given per 100g or 100ml
• Energy, fat, saturates, sugar and salt GDAs on the front-of-pack
• New country of origin requirements to apply to meat, poultry and dairy foods – and also where these foods are used as ingredients.
For more details and reaction to the vote, click here.