New EU legislation will prevent bogus claims on food

19 May, 2006. safefood welcomes the decision of the EU parliament to introduce tougher legislation regarding what food manufacturers can and cannot say on food packages. 
 
Food labels often carry health or nutrition claims, such as 'reduces cholesterol' and 'low fat' or ‘high in vitamin C’. Some of these claims can, however, be confusing or misleading to consumers who find nutrition tables on food packaging difficult to understand.

To protect consumers, in 2003 the EU Commission proposed a regulation on nutrition and health claims which set out strict criteria for food companies who wish to make nutrition and health claims.

Martin Higgins, Chief Executive, safefood said, ”In the absence of EU legislation, most food companies have used the guidelines of international organisations like CODEX to make nutrition claims like ‘low in fat’ or ‘high in fibre’. From the autumn of this year, we will have our own EU guidelines for nutrition claims. Health claims, on the other hand, have occupied a grey area with no strict regulation. This has meant that some food companies have been able to make vague or misleading claims. This is not allowed under the new legislation”

In general, the new legislation will prevent foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt from carrying health claims. Some products, e.g. fat spreads, may be exempt from this rule and a further decision is pending. Where a food is high, for example, in both fat and sugar, it can't claim to be low in salt. If a manufacturer wants to say ‘low salt’ they will have to also state on-pack if the food is high in either sugar or fat.

“The types of foods that may be affected by the new legislation include breakfast cereals that are high in sugar but are currently allowed to say ‘low in fat’, probiotic products that make vague claims like ‘benefits overall well-being’ or high sugar or fat treat foods, for example an ice cream that claims to be ‘high in calcium’,” said Higgins. ”In effect, the new rules for food will mean that it is far easier for consumers to make healthy choices by reading food labels.”
 
All new health claims on food will now need to be registered with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The scientific committee at EFSA will then assess each new claim and a 'register' of authorised health claims will be developed. Foods that already carry nutrition claims such as 'low in fat' will be able to remain on the market for two years and existing health claims, such as 'reduces cholesterol' are allowed for another three years to give food companies time to adapt to the new legislation.

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For further information please contact

Aileen McGloin, WHPR, Tel: 01-669 0030, email: aileen.mcgloin@ogilvy.com
Fiona Gilligan, safefood, Tel: 01 4480607, email: fgilligan@safefoodonline.com