The debate on the proposed healthclaims legislation, which began last night, has been acrimonious. In the main the debate pits the UK and Germany, the two EU members with the largest food processing industries in Europe, againstthe other members. For details on the proposals regulating vitamin and mineral additives see the separate story in today's issue of FoodProductionDaily.com).
It has resulted in intense lobbying by the food processing industry, which wants as few restrictions as possible put on the health benefits they claim for their products, againstconsumer groups and doctors' associations.
So far the food processing industry seems to be winning the battle, unless a compromise is achieved today between a coalition of right-wing European People's Party (ChristianDemocrats), UK and Germany members of the European Parliament (MPP), and other MPPs.
The conflict intensified last month when a parliamentary committee excised a key clause in the European Commission's proposals that would have banned food processors fromclaiming health benefits for products containing a high content of sugar, salt or fat.
Parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee voted 29 to 24 to cut the controversial requirement, known as "Article 4". Now the EuropeanCommission and civic groups are lobbying to get it reinstated today.
"The Commission believes such claims should be based on scientific fact and should only be used after they have been duly authorised," the body stated in a press releaseyesterday.
Any nutrition or health claims should be based on a specific nutrient profile of the product, the Commission stated. The administrative body says the profile should be establishedunder the supervision of the European Food Safety Authority. Any nutritional claims must appear on the food label.
Under the Commission proposals any food described as having "no fat" must have no more than 0.5 grammes of fat per 100 grammes or 100ml. If a food product is described as"rich in protein", at least 12 per cent of its energy value must come from proteins.
The Commission also wants to ban certain health claims explicitly, such as those relating to weight and appetite control and about the advice of health professionals.
However MEP's on the committee voted to allow food processors to make such claims if these are scientifically substantiated. They voted to keep the ban in place for claimstargeted directly at children.
MEPs in the committee also voted to explicitly exclude from the proposed legislation wine and publicity campaigns for agricultural products, which are already covered by otherlegislation, as well as brand names.
"Although the names of some brands in themselves hint at a nutritional benefit, these would not be affected if they have been registered in accordance with existinglegislation," the Commission stated.
The committee is also proposing an amendment tightening up data protection. If food producers have to reveal industrial secrets to comply with the scientific requirements, theywill be protected by intellectual property law.
In addition, to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses are not penalised by the new system, the MEPs in the committee are calling for them to be granted special aid to helpin preparing the documentation.
Last week the standing committee of European Doctors, a lobby group, criticised the committee for excising article four on health benefit claims for products containing a highcontent of sugar, salt or fat and called for its reinstatement.
Meanwhile industry groups say the problems lie in the diet of individuals and not in the composition of any particular product. The proposed legislation is available as a Worddocument by clicking here.