Looking to the next stage in the health claims campaign
The EU's controversialNutrition and Health Claims Regulation Community list of 222 health claims – as approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – has cleared the final hurdle in the European Parliament before becoming law. Despite intense and prolonged lobbying for a veto, it would seem that the majority of MEPs were just glad to see the back of it. So, what can be done to reduce the worst effects? Three options are currently being considered.
Option 1: impact assessment
Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julie Girling has proposed that the European Commission (EC) carries out an assessment of the socio-economic effects of removing the vast majority of health claims from the European Union (EU) marketplace. Lack of an impact assessment was one of the major reasons we pushed for a veto of the Community list in the first place.
The Co-ordinators of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (EFSA) decided, at a meeting on 8th May, to delay voting on whether to support an impact assessment. It’s now possible that an impact assessment may occur later, when problems will have begun to develop after the law really bites following a 6-month stay of execution – a better option than performing one at this early stage.
Option 2: Create a ‘pending’ list
The second proposal would involve the EC looking again at all those health claims which failed to receive positive opinions, and adding these to a newly created ‘pending‘ list if they fit certain criteria, including where foods or ingredients have been insufficiently characterised. This will be far from plain sailing given that the concept of a pending list does not appear in the letter of the law, but, in effect, it applies to all claims that are still capable of scientific assessment assuming provision of more data. By contrast, the list of rejected claims, which is a requirement of the NHCR (Article 20), would be limited to claims that have been fully assessed and that are regarded as genuinely spurious or misleading. We also believe that it would be essential that in gaining the European authorities’ and Member States’ recognition of the ‘pending list’, that confirmation is also sought that transitional measures (Article 28) would also apply. These would allow Member States to continue to allow claims that had been previously allowed within their national regimes. It would at least provide a stay of execution.
However, the ENVI Co-ordinators did not even discuss this option in their 8th May meeting.
Option 3: Modifying EFSA’s approach to scientific assessment
We have written a lot in complaint about the European Food Safety Authority’s methods of assessment of health claims.. It is simply inappropriate to consider only those data supplied by a petitioner, who may be perfectly competent to deliver a food safety to a consumer, or to evaluate authoritative opinions from the scientific literature. But to expect them to find every single appropriate reference, and provide every morsel of data that is required by the EFSA ‘bean counters’, is quite another thing. So, we will continue to lobby and pressure on this, and so will the band of trusted MEPs who feel as strongly as we do on this issue.
Doing nothing is not an option
The Community list consists of only 222 approved health claims, for a total of 70 foods and ingredients. Unless something changes, in just over 6 months time, all other health-related information on foods will disappear. That includes health claims relating to probiotics, berry fruits/antioxidants and coenzyme Q10, amongst thousands of others.
As soon as well are able to publicise the MEPs who are getting behind this next stage of the campaign that ultimately relates to our right to know and informed consumer choice, we’ll let you know. They need you support, and with luck we can help grow the delegation.