EU policymakers decided back in 2006 that, by 2009, Europe would have nutrient profiles in place to ensure that foods with high amounts of salt, sugar and fat could not boast about their healthy credentials. Nearly ten years on, however, and nutrient profiles are still not in place.
Consumers should not be cheated by smart slogans that lead them to believe that chocolate bars or cocoa milk, for example, are healthy foods, he said.
In December the Danish government, along with Austria, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Luxembourg, Lithuania and the Netherlands, called on the Commission to complete the work.
Last week, Denmark’s Minister for the Environment and Food Esben Lunde Larsen again called on the Commission to act.
“Consumers have not got what they were promised in 2006, and the result is that they still risk being misled about health," he said. "Today, you can see advertising that calls for grabbing a vitamin drink because 'it helps your immune system’, when it is really filled with sugar. It is not okay that chocolate milk is marketed as a good product to drink after training because it is ‘high in protein’.
"The agreement was a good piece of political craft that accommodated both businesses and consumers. It was democracy at its best; politicians listened to both views at that time. But political mudslinging and interests have meant that nutrition profiles never became a reality."
The Commission is evaluating the health claims regulation as part of the REFIT evaluation, and is due to publish an outcome in mid-2018.
Commission spokesperson for health, food safety and Energy Union projects Anca Paduraru said it would wait for this evaluation before deciding on the next steps for the nutrient profiles.“This evaluation will allow the Commission to take a fully informed and evidence-based decision on the fate of nutrient profiles, and the conclusions of the evaluation are of utmost importance for the next steps to follow in such a controversial subject-matter," she told FoodNavigator.
Communications director at industry trade group FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) Florence Ranson said any claims used by manufacturers have been evaluated by risk managers at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and are authorised under EU law.
“[Claims] provide correct and meaningful information to consumers about the nutritional and health beneficial effects of their foods and drinks. Claims are based on science and are reliable, it is not a matter of the products they are based on.”
However, there are concerns that HSSF products bearing a health claim benefit from a perceived ‘health halo’.
New Zealand and Australia have a nutrient profiling scheme that is designed to keep in check health claims - the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion (FSANZ NPSC).
When researchers from Oxford University tested 2,034 packaged products purchased from shops in Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Slovenia and the UK against the critera, only 43% of European foods carrying health claims passed the check.
Ranson said FDE supported the REFIT evaluation on the health claims regulation as “appropriate and justified given the complexity of the issue and in view of the potentially varying impacts on businesses, small and large alike, across the EU”.
FDE members have contributed to the underlying study for REFIT evaluation and will continue to do so, she added.
President of the Danish Consumers' Council Anja Philip said there was a broad consensus in Denmark over the need for nutrient profiles. “But it is in Brussels that the battle is to be won,” she added.