Cantarell said: “A European nutrition policy framework will ensure that the industry as a whole moves in the same direction. It will create a level playing field, allowing companies to compete using the nutritional qualities of their products on top of taste or price.”
Writing in an opinion article on Politico, Cantarell, who is also Nestlé’s head of EMEA, argued that the necessary framework would be provided by product benchmarks.
He said benchmarks would not only guide healthier recipes, but would also bring the “long-term predictability” needed to support investments in health-related innovation across the entire industry.
“But let me be clear: An EU nutrition policy also requires strict regulation, notably in areas where there is scientific consensus about the negative health impact, “he said.
“This is the case for industrial trans-fatty acids, for example. Together with NGOs, Nestlé and others last year called for a legal ban on these fats.”
Cantarell added that industry is not waiting for such a policy to take shape.
He cited the example of Nestlé which had been committed to its own reformulation policy for 15 years. Cantarell said that in 2015 alone the company had removed 440 tons of saturated fats, 2600 tons of sugar and 260 tons of salt from its product recipes.
“But we face the limits of what we can do alone. Consumers don’t accept strong changes in the taste of a product and will look for alternatives, or add the sugar or salt themselves. Educators, nutritionists and NGOs should help to change consumer behaviors and preferences,” he said.
Collaboration and dialogue needed
Nestlé’s call for a comprehensive EU nutrition policy has been backed by food industry confederation, Food Drink Europe (FDE).
Florence Ranson, spokesperson for the Brussels-based group told FoodNavigator: “Whilst public health is predominantly a national competence, we believe that there is merit in having a more coordinated approach at the EU level.
“This also includes amongst others more collaboration and dialogue between the high level group and the EU Platform (i.e. between governments and stakeholders) towards common objectives; identifying research and innovation opportunities at EU level to enhance nutrition; improve the scientific basis and data monitoring; providing support for SMEs, etc. Such an approach should facilitate a framework for growth and innovation opportunities for companies to invest in nutrition.”
The current EU policy on nutrition is guided by a series of directives called "EU Strategy on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health Issues."
The strategy, which covers a range of Commission policies including food labelling and nutrition, was introduced in 2007 and has yet to be renewed.
Ranson added: “A few individual multinational companies have said they favour EU-level product category benchmarks as their product portfolio and recipes are pretty much standardized throughout the EU. However, we recognise that in general, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to product formulation as products may differ across the various countries depending on consumer preferences, consumption habits, etc.”