Misleading Food Claims Rejected By EU Parliament

SNP MEP Alyn Smith has welcomed the decision by the European Parliament in Brussels to reject a proposal from the EU Commission to allow misleading nutritional claims for food products.

The Commission had proposed amending a five year old regulation to add new nutritional categories that would have allowed producers to claim reduced percentages of potentially unhealthy components (like fat, salt, sugar and saturated fat) compared to a previous version of the same product.

The proposal was rejected by 393 votes for compared to 161 against, with 21 abstentions.

The Commission will now have to come forward with a new proposal.

Speaking after the vote, Alyn said:

"The Parliament has today sent the Commission back to the drawing board. Their proposal ran completely counter to the purpose and spirit of the legislation and I am glad to see it decisively rejected.

"EU legislation on health and nutrition claims is designed to provide consumers with necessary information in a format that is easy to understand. Nutritional claims on foods should only be permitted if they allow consumers to make a clear choice for healthy foods. The Commission's proposal would instead have created greater uncertainty. Allowing claims about reduced percentages of unhealthy components (compared to previous versions) could have confused consumers, leading them to believe that a product is healthy even though it continues to contain considerable amounts of potentially unhealthy components (like salt, sugar or fats).

"The Commission should now come forward with a new proposal excluding the rejected nutrition claim."

The Commission proposed to authorise a Health Claim stating "Now contains x% less (energy, fat, saturated fat, sodium/salt, or sugars)" for reformulated products where the reduction content is at least 15%.

However, this is potentially misleading for consumers:

First, legally speaking, such a claim is contrary to the basic Regulation (Reg. 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods), as Art 9 states that comparative claims can only be made between foods of the same category, "taking into consideration a range of foods of that category". Thus a claim pointing to a reduction of an ingredient compared to a previous version of the product is not admissible.

Second, such a claim could be highly misleading because it could be put on products which had a very high content of a certain nutrient (and still have after reformulation, as 15% is not enormous). It does not say anything about the absolute level of the nutrient compared to similar products - and products of a different brand but lower in the respective nutrient will not be able to bear the claim.

Third, claims pointing to a "reduced" content of nutrients are already allowed and may be made where the reduction is at least 30% compared to a similar product (out of a range of foods of that category). Consumers might assume that the quantified statement in the "now contains x% less of..." claim signifies a greater reduction than that found in a "reduced" (or "light") claim, which is not the case.