Nutrient profiling here to stay

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrient profiling Nutrition

Nutrient profiling, one of the most controversial elements of
Europe's proposed health claims law, looks set to remain in the
future legislation, according to experts, and some firms have
already signalled their acceptance.

Nutrient profiling, also known as article 4, would prohibit health claims on any products high in salt, sugar or fat.

The concept has been vigorously attacked by many in the food industry who say that foods currently accepted as healthy, such as margarine with phytosterols, calcium-enriched fruit juice or iodised salt, would gain an unfavourable nutrient profile under this law.

However despite being thrown out by MEPs during the draft regulation's first reading in May, the article is supported by the European Council, due to adopt its common position today.

Furthermore, some significant players such as cereal maker Kellogg's have "come to accept" the concept of nutrient profiling, reducing the impact of further industry lobbying in the lead up to the parliament's second reading early next year.

"We are still analyzing the detail in the text [of the Council's common position],"​ said a spokeswoman for Kellogg's.

"But in general, we have come to accept the nutrient profiling concept within the health claims process, provided that it is done in a rigorous scientific process, and in full consultation with stakeholders."

She told that the position, far from that of many in the industry, was based on the current political environment.

"We recognize that member states all support it."

Increasing government pressure on food makers to help reduce rates of obesity has seen other global companies introduce their own nutrient profiling systems.

Kraft has developed a scheme called Sensible Solutions that singles out products if they have levels of salt, sugar and fat below designated thresholds. It is currently only seen on front-of-pack labelling in the US, but spokeswoman Joanna Scott said it also informs the group's advertising across markets, particularly to children.

"We support the principles of nutrient profiling,"​ she said. "But the key for us is that it is category-based. You cannot use the same levels for cheese as apples."

She added that the firm rejects the nutritional profiling model developed by the UK's Food Standards Agency, which was presented to the advertising watchdog Ofcom this week.

Thierry Dieu, spokesman for Europe's food industry association CIAA, admitted that there had been disagreement over article four among the group's members and that this had resulted in a change in its position on health claims.

"We will publicise the new position later this month,"​ he said.

Jean Feord, manager of Leatherhead Food's legislation department, noted that some small concessions had been made by the European Council on nutrient profiling.

"They have recognized that the concept is going to be impossible to introduce across all foods,"​ she said.

Some of the proposed changes to the draft include an opt-out clause for nutrition claims referring to the reduction of fat, sugar or sodium (4.2 in the council position). A 'reduced fat' statement is considered to be factual, when compared to a standard version of the same food, whereas 'low in fat' has no similar comparison.

Reduced fat claims would therefore not be subject to a threshold level of fat.

However Feord added that the concept nutrient profiling is unlikely to go away for most other cases.

"Given that it was thrown out by the parliament and is now back in thanks to the Council, I can't see them being removed altogether."

The major problem for all food companies, however, whether they support the system or not, will be estimating what levels of sugar, salt or fat will be considered acceptable under the future law.

The draft includes some information on the levels of healthy nutrients are required to make a nutritional claim but none on the levels of unhealthy elements that would block claims being made.

The common position texts are expected to be presented to the Parliament early in 2006, under the Austrian Presidency.

As well as wanting to delete nutrient profiles, MEPs also want a notification procedure for health claims rather than the more rigorous authorisation system proposed by the Commission.

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