Brussels, 16 May 2006
Markos Kyprianou, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, today welcomed the European Parliament’s 2nd Reading vote on the Health and Nutrition Claims Regulation, which paves the way for the adoption of this important piece of legislation. The proposed Regulation will ensure that consumers will be able to rely on the truth and accuracy of information on food labels and will create a level playing field for food manufacturers wishing to use health or nutrition claims. The Council is expected to give their political agreement to the Parliament’s amendments in the coming weeks, before the formal adoption by Council of the Regulation expected by this autumn, and the Regulation will enter into force within 20 days of its publication in the Official Journal. The first provisions of the Regulation will begin to apply 6 months from entry into force. As a transitional measure, existing nutrition claims will be able to remain on the market for 2 years, and existing health claims for three years. Nutrient profiles will be drawn up by the Commission based on an opinion by EFSA within two years.
Speaking after the vote, Commissioner Kyprianou said, “I am very pleased that Parliament has backed this legislation which will guarantee truthful and science-backed information for European consumers. Food labels have a huge influence over consumers’ choices and it is only reasonable to expect that the claims on them are not false or misleading. The Health and Nutrition Claims Regulation will mean that EU citizens can be assured that what they see is what they get. It will also create a fairer market for producers making genuine and substantiated health or nutrition claims. Like any compromise, each side would have liked to go further, but this is a good compromise which takes account of all positions in a balanced way.”
Nutrition Claims – information to rely on
The proposed Health and Nutrition Claims Regulation lays down strict conditions for the use of nutrition claims such as “low fat”, “high fibre” or “reduced sugar”. Set thresholds will have to be met before such claims can be made. For example, there will have to be 6g of fibre per 100g for the claim “high fibre” to be used and no more than 0.12g of sodium per 100g/100ml for the claim “low sodium/salt”. (See Annex for more details).
Importantly, in the text backed by the Parliament today, the article on nutritional profiles (Article 4) is maintained. This states that a nutrition claim can only be used if it fits a certain nutritional profile (i.e. below a certain salt, fat and/or sugar level). These nutritional profiles will be set by Commission and Member States through Comitology procedure, based on the opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), within 24 months of the Regulation entering into force.
A slight amendment to Article 4 was agreed between Council and Parliament prior to today’s vote, whereby a nutrition claim will still be permitted if only one nutrient (e.g. salt, sugar or fat) exceeds the limit of the nutritional profile. However, the high level of this substance must be clearly marked on the label, close to and with the same prominence as the claim.
In line with the Commission’s proposal, the European Parliament agreed to a ban on nutrition claims on alcohol products, except if these claims refer to a reduction in alcohol or calories.
Health claims – benefits must be proven
With regard to health claims, the Commission will draw up a positive list of well-established claims, such as “calcium is good for your bones”, which may be used on a label so long as they are proven to apply to the food in question. Member States will submit a list of claims already approved at national level and, within 3 years of the Regulation entering into force, the Commission will produce an EU positive list of health claims. Any claims submitted for the EU list after this period will have to be examined by EFSA and approved by the Commission and Member States through the Comitology procedure.
The use of new health claims or disease reduction claims, such as “[name of product] lowers cholesterol” or “calcium helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis”, will require specific authorisation by the Commission through the Comitology procedure, following scientific assessment and verification of the claim by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The Regulation will also apply to trademarks. Within 15 years of the entry into force of the Regulation, existing brand names suggesting health benefits (such as promises of weight loss) that do not meet the requirements of the Regulation must be phased out and removed from the market. However, certain generic descriptors, e.g. digestives, may apply for derogation from this rule.
 In the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health