Europe blocks steps to healthy reformulation

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European parliament European union Nutrition

Europe blocks steps to healthy reformulation
Manufacturers have been thwarted in their efforts to improve the healthy nature of products by incremental reformulation by the European Parliament (EP).

It follows a vote by MEPs against a European Commission (EC) amendment to the EU nutrition claims rules, which proposed allowing claims for 'now contains x% less' for fat, sugar and salt, as well as those for 'no added salt'.

Voting against the proposal by 393 to 161 with 21 abstentions, the MEPs argued that they had exercised a veto as they believed the amendment would have been "misleading"​ to consumers.

"I am pleased that the EP has defended the interests of health-conscious consumers, who need to be able to make clear comparisons when shopping for food,"​ said Matthias Groote, chairman of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI).

Groote argued that the proposal would have allowed, for example, a '15% less sugar' claim, which would be based on a previous formulation of the same product. This, he claimed, would be hard to compare or could misleadingly appear healthier than a 'reduced sugar' label, which must contain 30% less than other similar products, under existing EU legislation on health and nutrition claims.

Groote also argued that the proposal could have provided a disincentive for firms to reformulate their products with substantially lower sugar, salt and fat content.

However, speaking after the vote on February 2, Jesús Serafín Pérez, president of FoodDrinkEurope, which represents manufacturers in the EU, said: "Today's vote in the EP sends a strong signal to consumers and industry on two counts. Firstly, it means consumers will not be informed of important reformulations so they can make an informed food choice, thus driving positive changes in dietary habits.

"Secondly, it serves a 'bitter pill' to food operators who have strived to voluntarily reformulate their products in line with consumer taste and public health expectations over the years."

FoodDrinkEurope believes the introduction of a 'now contains x% less' claim would offer new possibilities to food manufacturers to communicate incremental nutrition changes made to foods to the consumer by comparing old and new recipes.

"Use of the 'x% less claim' encourages innovation and product reformulation as it incentivises manufacturers to continue their reformulation efforts even where technical solutions are difficult to find,"​ said the Food and Drink Federation's director of food safety and science Barbara Gallani, prior to the vote.

Gallani added: "A step-wise approach to reformulation is often necessary from a technological standpoint and to accommodate gradual change in consumer taste and thus acceptance."

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