The Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) vote on the 222-strong health claims list on 21st March 2012, and depending on the results, it will go to a vote by the entire Parliament on 28th or 29th March. The issue of health claims for foods and natural health products is definitely on MEPs’ radar screens, thanks to your efforts and to a meeting in Brussels last Wednesday organised by Julie Girling MEP.  But what are the chances of MEPs voting to block the list from becoming law?

Bringing MEPs up to speed

Ms Girling organised the meeting as, “Essentially a workshop for [MEPs] and their staff”, at which around 40 MEPs were joined by industry representatives and other stakeholders and interested parties, including Adam Smith of ANH-Intl.

Attendees heard presentations covering both sides of the debate around the health claims list and the responsible legislation, the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR; No. 1924/2006). Professor Albert Flynn presented the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s position – a man who apparently sees no problem with sitting on an advisory board for Kraft Foods while chairing the Panel assessing health claims.

Professor David Richardson, who incidentally used to be Group Chief Scientist and Head of Nutrition Science and Communication at Nestlé UK Ltd, explained why EFSA’s methods fail to include the full spectrum of scientific evidence. Professor Ger Rijkers showed why a 100% rejection rate for probiotics is such a travesty.

Enter Irish MEP Marian Harkin...

There followed a lively exchange between Marian Harkin MEP and Basil Mathioudakis, Head of Nutrition, Food Composition and Information at the European Commission. To say that Ms Harkin was unhappy with Mr Mathioudakis’ response would be understatement of the year.

To hear and be inspired by Ms Harkin’s highly considered, persistent and unwavering challenges to the European Commission spokesman, take 5 minutes to listen to the Nutraingredients podcast of a post-meeting interview with her.

Opening a can of worms as the big day approaches

“We have opened a can of worms that EFSA and the Commission would have much preferred remained closed”, said Marian Harkin MEP after the meeting. More MEPs than ever are now aware of problems with the Community list of health claims. However, with the ENVI vote imminent, MEPs need to get more interested if they’re going to block the list – and with many of them undecided, it will only take a nudge to change their minds.

This is an enormous issue: the potential loss of around 90% of health-related information currently found on foods and food ingredients, all thanks to EFSA’s misreading of the NHCR and unrealistic scientific assessment of health claims – among many other problems. Ms Girling herself acknowledges some of this when she says, “Marian [Harkin] is saying that the original legislation has been misinterpreted [which] is a perfectly valid approach, [although] it might be better to invoke Parliament’s new right to impact assessments”. And yet, she intends to vote for a flawed list with unknown effects on consumers because, “There is no value in throwing claims out because then we are back to square one”

Surely, delay is preferable to tragedy?

After speaking to MEPs from various Parliamentary groupings in Brussels this week, it appears that this feeling is widespread: many MEPs want to see an end to a legislative process that has dragged on, mired in controversy, since the NHCR was adopted in 2006. Have some of these MEPs forgotten who they actually represent, and that their priority shouldn’t be to make life easier for themselves? We couldn’t disagree more strongly with the position that the list should simply be railroaded through and sorted out once it’s been made law. Not a single problem associated with this legislation has been settled – things have gotten much worse since 2006, in fact – and allowing the list to become law will only cement the problems and encourage EFSA to carry on as before. 

All the evidence points to the fact that the European Commission and EFSA have shown almost no desire to voluntarily sort this problem out.  We firmly believe that the only way to fix the NHCR is to veto the health claims list — and delaying its full implementation will be a very small price for its advocates to pay.

We can do this – but we need your help!

Early next week, we will send a new, updated briefing pack to MEPs that distils our arguments against the health claims list into a digestible format. We’ll then be hitting the phones to persuade MEPs to vote in favour of the objection – that is, against the health claims list.

As we mentioned earlier, the ENVI vote is on 21st March, and if ENVI votes for the objection, it will go to a vote by the entire Parliament on 28th or 29th March. We don’t have much time! We need to influence all MEPs as much as possible in that time, whether or not they are on ENVI.

Urgent call to action!

  1. If you haven’t written to your MEPs yet, we implore you to do so using our template letters and instructions
  2. If you’ve written already and received replies from your MEPs, please read our rebuttals to MEPs’ arguments and respond to them. We will add a link to our new campaign pack as soon as it is ready
  3. Send our health claims veto campaign link to all your email contacts and Facebook friends, post it on Twitter, send it to forums – anything you can think of to get the word out!

We think our arguments are the only ones that stand up to consistent scrutiny, and that it will be a tragedy if this list becomes law – ushering in bans on thousands of health claims that consumers currently use when choosing healthy products for them and their families. Help us to block the health claims list and to ensure that our children have the information they need to choose healthy foods!

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