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Unilever says: adopt EU term and break reformulation ice

By Elaine Watson , 07-Jan-2010

Aligning the UK with Europe over definitions of ‘ice cream’ would give manufacturers more of an incentive to reformulate, Unilever has claimed.

Under UK law – enshrined in the Food Labelling Regulations (1996) – products called ‘ice cream’ must contain at least 5% fat and 2.5% milk protein.

Elsewhere in Europe, the European Ice Cream Association’s (Euroglace) code of practice for edible ices typically applies. This requires ‘ice cream’ to contain fat (from dairy, eggs or vegetables) – but does not set a minimum fat or protein level.

In a consultation on saturated fat reduction published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) last month, the FSA said UK firms wishing to market lower-fat products were currently using terms such as ‘iced desserts’, which confused consumers and potentially restricted sales: “The use of such terms is limiting and has the potential to result in consumer confusion.”

Aligning the UK with Euroglace, rather than trying to reduce the minimum fat content required for ice cream within the current controls, was “considered to offer the greatest flexibility for future innovation”, said the FSA.

Unilever agreed: “We see this as a positive step. It aligns the UK with European codes, which is important for a global business like ours. Also, although ice cream isn’t a big contributor to saturated fat consumption – milk, cheese and butter and meat are the biggies – there is still room for improvement.”

It added: “Unilever has been making reductions in saturated fat levels in ice cream in recent years, but the change in rules will give further impetus for the whole industry to make reductions, particularly in scooping.”

Owen Warnock, a partner at law firm Eversheds, said:

“Amending Regulations would need to be written and approved by Parliament. It could be done in a few weeks, but is likely to take several months because the government will first wait for responses to this consultation [which closes in March].”

The speed with which an amendment could be ratified “depends on the exact power used in the enabling Act”, he said.

“Sometimes a positive vote is required and under other powers the draft regulation is laid before Parliament and comes into force unless there is a vote against it.”

The FSA said: “If we proceed, we would develop detailed proposals that would be subject to further consultation and would be accompanied by a full impact assessment.”

This article was first published by our sister publication Food Manufacture .

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