Today many food labels contain information on nutritional value and health of products, offering useful information about the foods we buy. This information helps us to know how foods affect our health and welfare, and to follow a more balanced diet.
The new regulation on nutrition and health
In January 2007, there was published a Regulation 1924/2006 on the nutrition and health food, which come into force in the Member States of the EU from July 1st, 2007. This is the first piece of legislation that regulates nutrition and health. Its objectives are:
- Ensuring a high level of consumer protection, allegations against foods that are exaggerated or false or no foundation. Under the new legislation, consumers can be assured that the information on food labels will be clear and precise, allowing them to be well informed about the foods they choose.
- Harmonizing legislation throughout the EU, offering farmers and food manufacturers clear rules to ensure a uniform and fair competition, to protect innovation in the food industry and ensure that nutrition and health made by manufacturers are not in competition with others based on false or inaccurate information.
The regulation applies to any nutrition and health claim in food or beverages produced for human consumption and for sale in the EU market, including commercial, general advertising and promotional campaigns. It shall also apply to foodstuffs with a specific function and nutritional supplements.
Types of arguments
The European Union permits three types of claims on foods:
- Nutrition claims: claiming, suggesting or giving to understand that food has specific properties because of its composition (for its contribution energy or a nutrient in particular). Examples of such arguments would be: "source", "no", "high-", "low" or "reduced in" calories or other nutrient in particular.
- Health claims: claiming or suggesting a relationship between a food or one of its constituents and health. This type of claim refers to the physiological function of a component, such as "calcium can help strengthen bones." The claim must be based on commonly accepted scientific data and should be understandable to the average consumer.
- The third type are "claims of reduced risk of disease". This specific type of health claim says that a food or one of its constituents significantly reduces the risk of a disease. For example, plant sterols help reduce blood cholesterol levels, thereby decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases. For the first time, allow the expression of diseases in food labels, provided they have the approval of the European Food Safety Agency (EASA).
Nutrient profiles and nutrition and health claims are used to present products as having an additional beneficial property for health or nutrition. In most cases, consumers perceive products carrying certain claims as better for their health and wellbeing. Currently, however, a food rich in fat, salt and / or sugar, can still use claims such as "rich in vitamin C" or "high fiber content”, although the benefit to the health and nutritional product as a whole is slight.
The objective of the Regulation on nutrition and health is to protect consumers so that there are no misunderstandings in this respect, exercising control over the allegations of healthy nutrition. In the case of health claims, will establish an approved list of claims built in three steps. First, Member States shall send the list of valid arguments to consider, based on commonly accepted scientific data on its territory (January 2008). Subsequently, the Authority will evaluate the submissions received by the deadline of two years. Finally, the list of accepted health claims appears on the public register. For new claims of this kind, the company wishing to make a claim on any food or drink must submit a dossier to the EFSA the evidence and follow the procedure. Claims of reduced risk of illness and allegations of child health will be carried out more elaborate procedures.
Regulation requires the European Commission to establish nutrient profiles as a mandatory criterion for foods can be the subject of allegations. The nutrient profiles are based on scientific opinions from EFSA. Twenty-four months after the entry into force, the Commission will consult interested parties and present proposals for nutrient profiles to Member State experts. If they support the proposed nutrient, profiles will be adopted by the Commission and used as a requirement for use of claims.
To facilitate the implementation of this measure, it has been agreed that an exemption will allow the use of nutrition if one nutrient is present at levels exceeding those set in the profile. However, high levels of this nutrient must be clearly indicated on the label, about the allegation and nutritional characteristics identical to those of the latter. In the event that two or more nutrients exceed the limit, no nutritional claim can be made whatsoever.
1. Aggett, PJ et al. (2005) PASSCLAIM Process for the Assessment of Scientific Support for Claims on Foods: Consensus on Criteria.
Eur J Clin Nut 44 (Suppl 1), 1-30.
2. EC Regulation No. 1924/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council on nutrition and health claims made on foods: