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'Percentage less' claims veto shows lack of trust in the industry; FDF to press for regulatory action

By Jane Byrne , 13-Feb-2012
Last updated the 13-Feb-2012 at 15:44 GMT

The recent veto of 'percentage less' claims by MEPs is indicative of a lack of trust in the food industry, said the UK trade group, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which is intent on continuing to push for such amendments to the health claims regulation.

MEPs, voting at plenary on 2 February, did not give their backing to the Commission’s bid to revise Annex of EC Regulation 1924/2006.

The plenary vote followed the rejection of the European Commission’s proposal two days earlier by members of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee.

The amendments, if passed, would have allowed, for example, a ‘15% less sugar’ claim, which would be based on a previous formulation of the same product as well as a ‘no added salt’ claim.

But some EU lawmakers saw this incremental reformulation bid by the industry, which had the backing of the member states, as just a marketing ploy and not one focused on the health of consumers.

When asked how the food industry might rethink its approach to communication given this perception of it in some regulatory and consumer quarters, Barbara Gallani, FDF’s director of food safety and science, said food and beverage manufacturers “are doing everything possible” to demonstrate "our level of engagement with the health and wellness agenda".

And, despite the negative ramifications of the veto for an industry in terms of communicating incremental changes in levels of salt, fat and sugar to the consumer, the director of food safety and science at the trade group, said that food and beverage manufacturers’ strategy of “step-wise” reformulation “will not change overnight.”

“We remain committed to this method of developing healthier products,” stressed Gallani.

“We will continue to look at ways of how to better inform consumers of our efforts within the legislative guidelines - perhaps taking a more pragmatic approach and giving direct examples of successful step-wise product reformulation,” said the FDF spokesperson, who cited the fact that products across a range of categories in UK supermarkets have managed a reduction of salt content of 60% to 70%.

“But these salt cuts didn’t happen in one go - they were introduced over a period of 10 to 15 years - and enabled the industry to take the consumer along the reformulation-for-health journey with it while ensuring continued market acceptability of products with lower salt from savoury snacks to biscuits to bread,” said Gallani.

The proposal has gone back to the health and consumer policy directorate at the Commission, which will have to redraft it, and initiate the approval process from member state backing to the ENVI committee stage once again.

Gallani said the food industry advocates will press home their disappointment at the negative outcome of this month’s veto by MEPs in “all the forums” open to doing so, in a move to get the regulation pushed through again. When asked what kind of rewording might enable such a development she told FoodNavigator.com:

“Honestly, at present, I don’t know. Obviously, no-one wants to waste anyone’s time on developing a proposal that would simply be vetoed again. But we want our pleas to be reconsidered - and we don’t believe the MEPs who voted against the amendments really took into account the ‘no added salt’ claim.”