Its comments came on the anniversary of the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health set up in 2005 to take a multi-faceted approach to diet-related illness.
The voluntary uptake of a labelling scheme based on Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) has been a particularly effective initiative, it said, which has been implemented by 11 of the largest food manufacturers in Europe, as well as many major retailers.
It said: “The GDA system helps consumers better understand the nutritional content of foods and to make more informed choices in line with their individual lifestyles.”
The CIAA has come under attack for this system though, from a consortium of health, industry and consumer groups called Stop-GDA. The campaign group argues that GDAs can be misleading because they are based on portion size rather than amount per 100g, and therefore could actually contribute to childhood obesity.
The CIAA has also congratulated industry on its product reformulation efforts, which it claims have been accelerated under the Platform, although they respond to wider consumer demands. Specifically, manufacturers of salt-containing foods including soups, sauces and cereals have reduced salt by up to 30 per cent, it said, while more than half of all European savoury snack companies now offer lines with reduced saturated fat.
Pointing to this progress, CIAA president Jean Martin took the opportunity to defend industry self-regulation.
He said: “Evidence from the EU Platform shows that the self-regulatory approach is indeed delivering results and that this process presents the appropriate channel through which to address these issues. In spite of increased pressures on the food and drink industry in the current economic climate, we are firmly committed to the EU Platform and look forward to its future progress and continuation.”
The food industry generally prefers the concept of self-regulation, rather than laws imposed from above, and has made great efforts to communicate its reformulation of products with reduced sugar, salt and saturated fat.
Consumer groups have challenged industry’s effectiveness in self-regulating, however. A recent survey by the Children’s Food Campaign, for example, found that a host of products designed for babies and toddlers were high in saturated fat, sugar and salt.
But reformulation is not a straightforward process, both in terms of retaining consumer acceptability of flavour and mouthfeel, and the functionality of ingredients, such as salt’s role as a preservative.
The EU food and drink industry has also been involved in a physical activity campaign under the Platform, which aims to make exercise appealing to 11- to 15-year-olds.