According to the BEUC, it is common for foods and drinks “loaded with sugar, salt or fat” to carry nutrition claims such as “high in fibre” or “B vitamins”. Those messages give a healthy halo to unhealthy products and mislead consumers as to the actual nutritional content of the food they buy, the BEUC insisted.
The BEUC, which counts consumer watchdogs from 32 different countries among its members, said that the long-overdue introduction of nutrient profiles would restrict the use of claims including “source of calcium” or “boosts the immune system” for foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS).
Nutrient profiles would set maximum levels for nutrients-of-concern, blocking HFSS products from making health claims.
Nutrient profiles ‘ten years late’
The BEUC insisted that the EC has failed to act, despite being “required by law” to publish nutrient profiles.
The organisation suggested that Regulation No 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on food, adopted in 2006, necessitated the publication of nutrient profiles by 2009. Tomorrow (19 January) will mark ten years since the EC missed this deadline, the BEUC claimed.
The Commission has instead initiated an evaluation (REFIT) of the Claims Regulation, which will examine whether the profiles are still needed.
“The EU Commission has regrettably turned a deaf ear to our longstanding calls. Consumers have been misled by countless claims, which disguise unhealthy foods as healthy options. The Commission could have stopped the tricks 10 years ago, had it fulfilled its duties,” Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, said.
“This delay is all the more unacceptable as weight issues are soaring in Europe. More than half of Europeans are overweight and run higher risks to develop diseases such as diabetes. Because appealing messages can strongly influence consumers when they buy foods or drinks, only healthy products deserve a claim.”
EC stresses need for ‘fully informed’ strategy
Responding, a spokesperson for the European Commission noted that the REFIT evaluation of the legislation is still “ongoing”.
“The external study feeding into this evaluation was finalised in June 2018,” the spokesperson told FoodNavigator. “The Staff Working Document will build on this external study and it is planned to be finalised by mid-2019.”
The EC spokesperson stressed the need to engage with all stakeholders to develop a “fully informed” policy.
“This evaluation will allow the Commission to consider a fully informed orientation strategy on the issue of nutrient profiles. The REFIT evaluation is only one step in the process. Stakeholders will have further opportunities to be involved in future policy developments regarding nutrient profiles.”
The BEUC, however, remained impatient for action. “Nutrient profiles need to be adopted urgently to enable consumers to make healthier choices. Consumer organisations are waiting for the EU Commission to publish a report on this issue before it leaves office at the time of the European elections,” Goyens said.