FoodNavigator.com reported yesterday on claims from Brussels lobbyists, BEUC, that the proposed amendment to the health claims regulation annex on nutrition claims to allow ‘now contains x% less’ fat/sugar/salt, etc (where x must be at least 15%) will only serve to mislead and confuse the public.
In a follow-up article, we hear further from Frederic Vincent, the spokesperson for DG Sanco, the Health and Consumer Policy directorate at the European Commission.
He told this publication that an incremental approach to food and drink reformulation such as proposed under the new ‘now contains x% less’ claim is in line with the one of the EU platform for action on diet, physical activity and health as well as the Second WHO European Action Plan on Food and Nutrition Policy.
In October, the Commission's regulatory committee backed the additions to the annex and the measures now face European Parliament and EU Council scrutiny.
But the consumer advocates BEUC say: “Claims such as “reduced fat” or “light in sugars” compare a product’s composition with that of other foods in a category. The claim “now X% less” compares a food…with its previous recipe. Consumers might be tempted to buy a product which they believe is healthier, whereas this is actually not the case.
Even after 15% reduction, many foods would still have a high fat, sugars and/or salt content. Small reductions are easy to achieve for manufacturers, and “now X% less” claims are likely to pop up all over the market, including on unhealthy foods.”
But Vincent said that modest reductions are more feasible and achievable by “more operators”.
And, he argues “A wider range of reformulated products with such modest improvements but acceptable by more consumers could become available and therefore lead to a bigger impact in term of public health, compared with the 'light' products which are consumed by a limited [number of] consumers.”
Vincent notes that the EU’s High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity has developed a common EU framework for salt reduction and fixed a realistic benchmark for overall salt reduction of a minimum of 16% over 4 years. “A 15% reduction can be therefore very significant,” he added.
In case of sugars reduction, the conditions of use for the claim 'now contains X less' but also for the claim 'light' ensure that sugars will not be replaced by fat and lead to a higher energy of the reformulated product.
“Replacing sugars by other carbohydrates, even if it does not decrease the energy, is recognised as beneficial by nutritionists as it lowers added sugars consumption,” said the spokesperson for DG Sanco.