EU Nutrition and Health Claims on Food Labeling – Update
Food operators are increasingly using health and/or nutritional claims to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
The European Union (EU) is currently evaluating its food labeling regulations to check they remain relevant and “fit for purpose”.
Foods are increasingly being labeled and advertised with nutritional and/or health claims. Food operators know that promoting nutritional, physiological and/or other health benefits, may give a product a competitive advantage over similar products.
To protect consumers, all products need to be accurately and adequately labeled.
Claims change perceptions
Foods promoted with claims may be perceived by consumers as having a nutritional, physiological or other health advantage over similar or other products to which such nutrients and other substances are not added. This may encourage consumers to make choices which directly influence their total intake of individual nutrients or other substances in a way which would run counter to scientific advice.
In the EU, general food labeling requirements are outlined in Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011. In force since 2014, it amends Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 (NHC: Nutritional and Health Claims Regulation) in regards to nutritional information printed on food products. It has been mandatory since 13 December 2016.
Enabling healthier choices
Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 governs the use of nutrition and health claims in labeling, presentation and advertising. It seeks to enable consumers to make healthier choices by protecting them from misleading information and ensuring a level playing field for food business operators within the EU market. Nutrition claims are statements like 'low fat' or 'high fibre', and makes a link between food constituents and health – for example, 'Vitamin D is needed for the normal growth and development of bone in children'.
This legal framework is used by food business operators who want to highlight a product’s beneficial effect in relation to health and nutrition. It covers product labeling, advertising and all commercial communications, including leaflets, promotional materials, websites and campaigns. All claims made in the EU must be clear, accurate and based on scientific evidence. Food bearing claims that could mislead EU consumers are prohibited.
The European Commission (EC) manages different procedures for the various claim types and authorization can only be given if the claim matches a permitted nutrition claim. For reference the EU maintains a public Register of Nutrition and Health Claims, containing all permitted nutrition claims and all authorized and non-authorized health claims.
Adopted in 2006, the Regulation remains incomplete because nutrient profiles, due for completion in January 2009, and health claims relating to plants and their preparations in food, have yet to be established. In addition, discussions concerning health claims relating to plants and their preparations have now led to a broader debate regarding the use of plants and their preparations in foods.
The EC announced on 19 May 2015, in its ‘Better Regulation’ communication, that it would be evaluating the Regulation. The evaluation is focusing on nutrient profiles and health claims relating to plants and their preparations, as well as considering the more general regulatory framework for the use of such substances in foods, since these closely relate to the use of health claims.
The evaluation will assess whether two specific elements required for the implementation of the Regulation have proven to be “fit for purpose” and whether, to date, the Regulation has achieved its overall objectives, with minimum burden, relating to reliable information for consumers and the facilitation of free movement for foods displaying claims. The appraisal will also examine whether the unimplemented nutrient profiles are still warranted and adequate to ensure the objectives of the Regulation. Nutrient profiles are thresholds for nutrients such as fat, salt and sugars. Products containing levels of nutrients above the thresholds cannot display a positive health message.
Finally, the evaluation will also examine the current rules concerning health claims for plants and their preparations used in foods and see whether they are adequate and how the use of such claims interacts with the current food regulatory framework for plants and their preparations.
The results of this evaluation will be used to decide on the future direction of regulation relating to health and nutrition claims in food.
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