Peter Liese, a German MEP who sits on the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee (ENVI), said the president-elect of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker had made some good decisions in his Commission line-up – but his decision to separate EFSA and EMA was a mistake.
Speaking at the annual conference for the Association of the European Self-Medication Industry (AESGP), the ex-GP and member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in Germany and the European People's Party as an MEP, said the move would give the public the wrong impression about pharma and food and how the two sectors were regulated.
He said he was uncomfortable with the idea of nutrient profiles, which by their nature did not take into account the nutritional needs of individuals.
Pharma looking for a soft touch?
In the past EMA and EFSA issued joint statements on risk assessments, both coming under the umbrella of DG SANCO, the Commission’s health directorate for public health. However, with the announcement of a new Commission structure in September, officiated by the European Parliament this week, the EMA was moved along with the responsibility for medicines and medical devices to DG Enterprise, which covered industry promotion, including pharma.
Liese said this had been an error. “Everybody says the industry is looking for a ‘soft approach’. But I know – after receiving calls from members of the pharma industry – this is not true. But the public perspective will be this way.”
Meanwhile, the European People's Party did not have a united position on the ambiguous status of botanicals in the 28-member EU bloc, where around 2000 health claim applications remain on hold as scientific criteria to assess them is debated across EU institutions. However he said: “My personal view is that rules decided [together] should be implemented. It’s not surprising that the industry will go to the courts if it is not implemented after years.”
Speaking at the same event, DG Sanco head Basil Mathioudakis said the European Commission was facing three legal cases for its "failure to act" on botanical claims, two of which will have hearings this month while one was rejected.
Liese said he used botanicals when he was ill, and even prescribed such products when he was a doctor, and therefore he appreciated the importance of the sector.
He empathised with concerns that a company could make vastly different product claims on a product with only minor changes. Some attendees at the event told NutraIngredients there seemed to be a mismatch between the desire to minimise this practice, and decisions like moving EMA. Speaking at the conference, European consumer group BEUC said this was a real concern for consumer information and safety.
Liese finished his talk saying: “I think it is a good thing that you cannot use claims if they are not approved by EFSA. But I don’t think it’s good that you can make a claim on a product that is not good quality.”
‘We’re struggling with nutrient profiles’
The EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) nutrient profile model was originally expected to be completed by 2009, but achieving consensus about which model to base it on has proven more problematic than expected.
Liese said nutrients should be considered within the context of overall diet and with regards to the individual. “We are not convinced by the ability to say a certain amount of salt or fat is or is not healthy. We have to treat people as individuals.”
The differing nutritional needs of groups like children and elderly people had to be accounted for, he said. “That’s why we’re struggling with nutrient profiles.”