More accurate data needed on dietary intake

By Chris Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Policymakers need to know more about actual dietary intake levels
of nutrients before they make hasty decisions on recommended
maximum and minimum consumption levels.

This was one of the key messages from a food industry conference hosted on Tuesday by the Brussels-based lobby group EU Salt, which represents European salt producers. "We need to deliver meaningful data,"​ said Beate Kettlitz, director of food policy, science and R&D at the CIAA, the European food and drink industry association, speaking at the event. "There is a lot of information out there about what people are eating - national databases, regional databases, in-house databases owned by food companies - but quantity counts for little if the data is not also good quality,"​ she said. She said that the food scientists, food producers and policymakers needed to find ways of improving the quality of the data they collect in order to give them a more accurate picture of the dietary intake habits of Europeans. This, in turn, would allow future public health policies that focused on reducing or increasing the intake of nutrients would be based on the best-possible information. "We need to look at sampling methods, testing methods, issues of terminology, etc,"​ she added. "Certain food categories may need a different approach than others - should we treat contaminants in the same way as additives, for example?"​ She stressed the urgent need for shared databases on consumption across the EU, and noted that the CIAA is a partner in an EU-funded programme called FACET, which aims to set harmonised methods for the collection of intake data and to create an EU-wide database of information. But she suggested that taking decisions on nutrient intake before the research is completed - the FACET programme still has another four years to go before the EU-wide database is ready - was a hazardous route to take. "It is hard to see how we can come to a position where EU-wide legislation is being set based on data that may not be fit for purpose,"​ she said. Loek Pijls, senior scientist at the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) in Brussels and another speaker at the event, suggested, however, that there was already sufficient consensus among food scientists and policy makers in certain areas to take informed decisions. "The data we have on some foods, such as salt, shows that we are probably getting more than is good for us, but how clear do we need to be?"​ he asked. "Do we do nothing at all until we are 100 percent certain?"​ His feelings were shared by the other conference speaker, Professor Andre Huyghebaert of the University of Ghent. "We don't need to wait to make policy decisions until we have all the information, as long as we take a prudent approach. But doing nothing is not an option,"​ he said. But Pijls warned that acting too quickly to restrict or increase intake of any particular nutrient could be a cause for concern. "Eating is a complex thing - if you change one thing, you affect others,"​ he said. "For example, we know that there is a link between the levels of vitamin D we consume and the ability to absorb calcium."

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