EFSA was asked for its opinion of the nutrient intake amounts included in the proposal for the new EU regulation on nutrition labelling, which in its current form envisages a system that gives nutrients as a percentage of reference intake levels.
The system is not dissimilar to that already used in the guidance daily amounts (GDA) scheme, developed and implemented by the food industry. The European Commission’s proposed upper reference levels for energy (2000kcal), total fat (70g), saturated fat (20g), total sugars (90g) and salt (6g, or 2.4g sodium) are the same as those for GDAs, and are intended to represent the requirements of an average woman.
The regulation proposal also proposed a labelling reference intake of 230g for carbohydrates, corresponding to 46 per cent of total energy. In this case, the reference intake is a lower limit
EFSA’s panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies deemed that the energy, total fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt amounts were all within the range of upper limits recommended for individuals in the general populations of European countries.
However the carbohydrate level works out at 46 per cent of total energy at 2000 kcal – below the lower intake limits recommended in EU countries, which are generally between 50 and 55 per cent of intake.
The panel therefore proposed a labelling reference intake for carbohydrate at 260g, 52 per cent of energy for a 2000kcal diet.
Not all stakeholders are convinced that at GDA-like scheme is the best approach for food labelling in Europe, however.
Morten Meyer of the Danish Cancer Society, one of the organisations behind the Stop-GDA campaign, told FoodNavigator.com that the proposed 90g reference intake for total sugars is especially concerning.
The 90g limit corresponds to 18 per cent of the 2000 kcal energy reference intake.
Some countries have recommended that a maximum of 10 per cent of total energy be made up of added sugars, which are not accompanied by beneficial nutrients such as vitamins or fibre.
EFSA assumes that total sugar intake would be split roughly 50-50 between natural and added sugars. This would mean that 9 per cent of energy would be provided by added sugars, in keeping with the 10 per cent upper limit.
However some products, such as soft drinks, do not contain any natural sugars at all. In this case Meyer is concerned that 18 per cent of total calories could come from added sugars. These would represent ‘empty’ calories that are not accompanied by nutritional benefits like fibre or vitamins.
“The consequence is a huge challenge to public health,” he said.
The Stop-GDA campaign is currently focused on its home country of Denmark, and a hearing on the labelling scheme has been arranged at the Danish parliament for 20th May.