The EU's nutrition and health claims legislation must give industry the flexibility to invest in R&D to develop healthier foods, warned the president of Europe's confederation of food and drink industries (CIAA) at a recent meeting.
The CIAA brought together six food companies earlier this year to provide Commission officials, MEPs and member states with an insight into the process of developing health claims and incorporating them into product marketing.
"The future EU regulatory framework, while preventing false or misleading claims, must at the same time give industry the flexibility and incentive to continue to invest in research and development, to develop products with a scientifically substantiated health benefit and to inform consumers accordingly," said Jean Martin, CIAA president, opening the 'From Research to Label' event.
His words echoed those of the European Health Products Manufacturers association, which voiced its concern about the draft legislation when released in July.
"Superficially these appear helpful but in practice they prevent food and food supplement producers from explaining the contribution of their products to health. Flexibility is needed so that labels and literature can use language suited to different degrees of understanding, and messages whose terms are already well-accepted by consumers throughout Europe," said Pedro Vicente Azua, EHPM's director of regulatory affairs, in July.
The EHPM has complained about article 11 of the regulation, which outlines which foods qualify for specific claims, such as 'high protein', 'high fibre' or 'natural source of vitamins', and how these claims can be worded. It is also fighting to change the prohibition on certain claims, such as behavioural/psychological, slimming and general well being, which should be subject to the same approach as the other claims, the group says.
The CIAA meeting included representatives from Kellogg, Nestlé, Belgian chicory ingredients firm Orafti, Queijo Saloio, a Portuguese manufacturer of cheeses with health benefits, the soyfoods company So Good International and Unilever.
The companies highlighted the need for harmonisation to ease marketing of products throughout Europe, currently subject to a wide set of different national regulations, but they also insisted that consumers are at the center of the innovation process. And if health benefits and the science surrounding them cannot be properly understood by those buying the foods, health claims serve little purpose.
"It is essential that food manufacturers retain the flexibility to translate scientific findings into a meaningful message for the consumer," concluded the CIAA members.
The British Nutrition Foundation has also attacked the proposal, suggesting that by its categorisation of foods, it could put consumers off buying healthy, important staples such as bread, milk and cereals.
The food industry is hoping to see the Regulation on Nutrition and Health Claims amended before it reaches the European Parliament. It is scheduled to become law next year.