The request was announced at an open plenary meeting of the Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) in Brussels on 30 June. The letter has now been published on EFSA's register of questions.
The letter’s signatories note that the last EFSA opinion on setting reference values for carbohydrates was based on studies from 2008-2009 and published in 2010, but that new evidence means a fresh look is required.
“Based on recently published scientific studies and in relation to weight gain, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related risk factors, we request scientific assistance in line with Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 in assessing if a dietary reference value for sugar with particular attention to added sugar now can be set.
“Based on available scientific evidence […], the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR), World Health Organisation (WHO), Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) and Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) have set dietary recommendations for added sugars.”
The UK's SACN report from last year recommended that the average population intake of free sugars not exceed 5% total dietary energy while the WHO conditionally recommends less than 5% of total energy intake.
But while the 2010 EFSA opinion gave reference values for the intake of total carbohydrates and dietary fibre, it did not give any values for added sugars, although it did state that a high intake of sugars as sugar-sweetened beverages may contribute to weight gain.
“EFSA has received the mandate in question and it’s being discussed internally,” an EFSA spokesperson said.
At the open plenary meeting, Valeriu Curtui, head of EFSA’s unit on nutrition, said it would be discussed in more detail at the NDA panel’s next meeting in September.
The letter, addressed to EFSA chief Bernard Url, is signed by the directors director generals of the Swedish National Food Agency, the Finnish Food Safety Authority (EVIRA), Denmark’s National Food Institute (DTU), the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority.
Moving towards US-style nutrition labels?
Earlier this year the US unveiled a new look mandatory nutrition label, which requires food and drink manufacturers to list how much sugar has been added to their products during processing and how much is naturally occurring.
Although the body does not differentiate between added sugars from those naturally present in fruit, vegetables and milk, public health campaigners argue that added sugars are what consumers need to reduce and that clearer information on this could promote a healthier food environment.
Following the changes to US labelling requirements, FoodNavigator asked a variety of stakeholders if Europe needed similar legislation changes to inform EU citizens on how much sugar has been added to their food. Click here to read their views.