Technically, claims such as ‘no added salt’ or ‘now with 15% less fat’ are now illegal in the EU as they are not on the Regulation's annex of permitted nutrition claims, which came into force last January.
While trading standards officers have been effectively turning a blind eye to this given that several nutrition claims are still under consideration, painfully slow progress in this area has proved frustrating for food manufacturers.
However, it now looks as if there could be some clarity soon following the release of a working document tabled by the EC on the revision of the annex of permitted nutrition claims.
This includes proposals for:
- A reformulation claim ‘now contains x% less’ fat/sugar/salt etc (where x must be at least 15%, to be permitted for one year following the launch of the reformulated product). But this comes with a proviso that sugar reformulation claims would only be permitted where the reduction in sugar was accompanied by a reduction in calories.
- An amendment to the percentage change needed for ‘reduced’/ ‘increased’ claims from 30% to 25%.
- An amendment to the ‘with no added sugars’ claim.
- The introduction of a ‘no added sodium/salt’ claim.
Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director of food safety and science Barbara Gallani told Food Manufacture.co.uk that the document was long overdue, but welcome.
“We have been asking for this for some time as these claims will allow companies to continue to communicate to consumers about their reformulation efforts and, in turn, help consumers choose products which fit into a healthy balanced diet."
She added: “We particularly support the proposed amendment to reduced claims which would allow claims to be made where the reduced content is at least 25% compared to a similar product and we welcome the proposed introduction of a temporary reformulation claim where the reduction in content of energy, fat, saturated fat, salt/sodium and/or sugars is at least 15%.
"This will allow companies to continue to communicate to consumers about the step-by-step reformulation of products over several years."
The proposed introduction of the 'no added sodium/salt' claim was also good news for UK food manufacturers, she said. "This will allow companies to highlight the key characteristic of certain products in food categories where sodium-containing ingredients including salt are typically present and help consumers to choose products that could help control or reduce their salt intake.”
UK food manufacturers have been particularly keen for 'X% less fat/sugar/salt' claims to be added to the annex to reflect their reformulation efforts, because as the Regulation currently stands, reduced fat/salt/sugar claims are only permitted where firms have made much more significant cuts, which firms argue provides little incentive to make smaller, incremental changes.
They are also anxiously waiting for the Commission to finalise the controversial nutrient profiling model outlined in the Regulation, which is designed to prevent firms from making health claims on foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar.
The model, which is being developed by DG Sanco (the European Commission’s directorate general for health and consumers), was supposed to be completed in January 2009, but as with all aspects of the health claims Regulation, the timetable has slipped.
* Many of these issues will be discussed at Front of Pack 2011 - a new conference covering the latest developments in the health claims Regulation, Food Information Regulation and Novel Food Regulation, plus a wide range of food labelling issues from sustainable palm oil to traffic light labels, carbon footprints and nano labels.