MEPs, voting in the Parliament’s plenary session yesterday, vetoed the Commission’s bid to revise Annex of EC Regulation 1924/2006.
The amendments, if passed, would have allowed, for example, a "15% less sugar" claim, which would be based on a previous formulation of the same product.
But MEPs said this 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.
Back to the drawing board
Frédéric Vincent, spokesperson for health and consumer policy at the Commission, expressed surprise at yesterday’s resolution, stressing to this publication that: “member states had supported this proposal” and he said the EC is now reflecting on the ‘what next’ following yesterday's veto.
The DG Sanco spokesperson pointed out that the conditions of use attached to the revisions of the annex would have ensured that consumers had “all the information they need to appreciate reformulation” with the intention that the products bearing such a ‘percentage less’ claim would have clearly stated the magnitude of the reduction in percentage terms.
In addition, said Vincent, they would have stated the level of the nutrient or energy prior to reformulation such as, ‘now contains 15% less sugars - contained 30 g of sugars/100 g prior to reformulation.”
“Moreover, this amount of 15% took into account consumer expectations. Drastic reductions would lead to substantial taste and other organoleptic changes that are not acceptable to consumers,” he said.
Rewarding junk food?
Welcoming the Parliament's veto of the Commission's plans Dutch MEP, Kartika Liotard, said it was a vote in the interests of consumers "against deceitful marketing ploys."
"Such claims are useful marketing tools but a bag of crisps with '15% less fat' could still contain a lot of fat. Furthermore, it is a lot easier to reduce fat and sugar levels by a few percentages in products that have extremely high levels at the outset. Manufacturers' unhealthiest food products would thus be rewarded," she said.
Nutrition and health claims are intended to inform consumers, not for marketing, continued Liotard.
But the Commission claims a stepwise approach involving a number of successive moderate improvements can deliver better results than drastic changes and that some consumers are reluctant to consume "light" products.
“If a reformulation is achievable by more operators and appreciated by more consumers, it has a bigger impact and therefore should be encouraged.
This claim about small reductions in salt, sugar and fat would have encouraged industry to continue efforts for reformulation, within a limited period of time, which help more consumers make healthier choices over a broader range of products than the current available claims could hope to do,” continued the DG Sanco spokesperson.