The health claims express has just whistled past the Last Chance Saloon – while the European Commission thumbed its nose from the windows of the bar.

No limbo, just loss

Last Monday, 14th May, 22 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), signed a letter drafted by Marian Harkin MEP to the European Commission about the health claims issue. The MEPs sought a last-ditch compromise to a legislative process that will ban over 90% of health-related information on foods and food ingredients from the European Union (EU) marketplace.

Essentially, the letter proposed a different approach for ‘pending’ health claims than that foreseen by a strict interpretation of the existing European law, the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation. Pending claims have neither been ‘authorised’ nor ‘rejected’ following the EC’s consideration of opinions formulated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). There are a variety of reasons why particular health claims have not been flat-out rejected by EFSA and the European Commission.

The MEP delegation wanted to make clear that banning all claims that were not positively authorised by the Commission, following favourable opinions by EFSA, would be a disaster for health-conscious European citizens and small businesses in the food and natural health products industry alike.

MEPs suggest a solution

Under the MEPs’ proposals, EFSA would look again at the ‘pending’ claims and, “Over present on such a ‘pending list’ would be added either to the list of authorised claims or rejected health claims on [the] Community Register”. During the reappraisal process, EU Member States would continue to use the ‘pending’ claims under so-called ‘transitional’ measures.

The letter also called for EFSA to look again at its scientific substantiation requirements for health claims, which have caused so many problems.

Nothing doing

Just as EFSA has in the past, however, the Commission chose to reject this last-minute appeal by MEPs – several of whom are members of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) that voted by a narrow margin for the Community list back in March. In so doing, the Commission once again proved its regrettable commitment to one of the most ill-thought out and poorly implemented pieces of legislation in recent European history. The Community list of 222 approved health claims was finally published on 16th May, 2012. Full implementation of the ban on unauthorised claims will begin 6 months from this date, on 16th November 2012.

We can only thank these MEPs for trying so hard to influence events on behalf of European consumers. At least their attempt to bring sense to the European authorities is now on record. If the Commission finds itself trying to defend its position in the European Court of Justice at a later date, it will have to admit that it was made aware of the problems by the citizens’ representatives.

The full list of signatories to the letter is as follows:

Marian Harkin (ALDE, Ireland)

Sirpa Pietikainen (EPP, Finland)

Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE, Ireland)

Liam Aylward (ALDE, Ireland)

Brian Crowley (ALDE, Ireland)

Gay Mitchell (EPP, Ireland)

Mairead McGuinness (EPP, Ireland)

Julie Girling (ECR, UK)

Elisabetta Gardini (EPP, Italy)

Carlo Fidanza (EPP, Italy)

Anna Zaborska (EPP, Slovakia)

Graham Watson (ALDE, UK)

Jan Brezina (EPP, Czech Republic)

Esther de Lange (EPP, Netherlands)

Francoise Grossetête (EPP, France)

Boguslaw Sonik (EPP, Poland)

Chris Davies (ALDE, UK)

Struan Stevenson (ECR, UK)

Mario Mauro (EPP, Italy)

Sophie Auconie (EPP, France)

Gaston Franco (EPP, France)

Jiri Mastalka (EUL-NGL, Czech Republic)

If any of these MEPs are your elected representatives, please drop them a thank you. You can find your MEP here.


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