Following the meeting in June the Commission has started a consultation with Member States (MS) asking several key question (see DH BULLETIN – Follow-up questions to the Commission Working Group on hea… about their views on whether claims should be permitted for products targeting infants and young children. MSs will meet again in July.
Health claims on foods for Infants and Young Children
On Monday 20th June, EU Member States will meet and discuss whether to authorise 20 new claims (Note 1) for use on formulas and foods for infants and young children. EFSA has given a positive opinion on all the new claims – but since they are mandatory ingredients in infant and follow-on formulas – they should have some benefit (although DHA is still questionable).
IBFAN is opposed to all claims on foods for infants and young children and is urging Member States to fulfil their obligations to protect child health (and prevent childhood obesity) before authorising any new claims. Aside from the Human Rights obligations we are reminding them of safeguards already contained in other pieces of EU legislation, such as the the REGULATION (EU) No 1169/2011 of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers: “Food information shall not be misleading, particularly….(c) by suggesting that the food possesses special characteristics when in fact all similar foods possess such characteristics, in particular by specifically emphasising the presence or absence of certain ingredients and/or nutrients.”
The 2006 Health Claims Regulations do not say anything explicitly about ‘mandatory ingredients.’ However Art. 2.2.1) states: ‘claim’ means any message or representation, which is not mandatory under Community or national legislation, including pictorial, graphic or symbolic representation, in any form, which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular characteristics; (See Note 2 for more useful safeguards)
Does a mandatory ingredient have a particular characteristic?
Meanwhile companies are exploiting this undecided period and are disproportionately targeting parents of young children. The Clymbol Research published earlier this year shows that over 70% of baby foods carry claims – with one German products carrying 17 claims. In contrast 30% of cereal carry claims. (Note 3)
There is no health reason to approve these new claims – and many risks. Simply adding the words ‘All (categories of food this food) contain xxx. xxx contributes to nxxxxx’ does nothing to counter the promotional and misleading impact of the claim. In the case of formulas and baby foods the products invariably replace better foods (cheaper, less sugary, more nutritious, fresher, less processed etc etc )
In 2011 the Baby Feeding Law Group wrote to Basil Mathioudakis (EU Commission) challenging the HIPP application to make a B1 Thiamin claim (a mandatory ingredient). At that time we used the language in the General Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC on labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs for sale to the ultimate consumer Article 2 (1) of which stated that: “The labelling and methods used must not: (a) be such as could mislead the purchaser to a material degree, particularly: (iii) by suggesting that the foodstuff possesses special characteristics when in fact all similar foodstuffs possess such characteristics.”
Note 1 The 20 new claims to be discussed: (preceded by the words: ” All (categories of food this food) contain…” DHA contributes to normal brain development’…Thiamin contributes to the maintenance of normal neurological development and function… .. Alpha-linolenic acid contributes to brain and nerve tissue development…. Magnesium contributes to normal development of bone… Vitamin A contributes to the normal function of the immune system… Iron contributes to normal cognitive development.. Riboflavin contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism…. Iron contributes to normal formation of haemoglobin and red blood cells.. Iodine contributes to normal cognitive development… Vitamin D contributes to normal development of bones and teeth… Zinc contributes to normal function of the immune system… Selenium contributes to the protection of DNA, proteins and lipids from oxidative damage… Zinc contributes to normal growth [in infants and young children].
Note 2 Useful safeguards contained in the Health Claims Regulations 2006:
Para(10) The application of nutrient profiles as a criterion would aim to avoid a situation where nutrition or health claims mask the overall nutritional status of a food product, which could mislead consumers when trying to make healthy choices in the context of a balanced diet.
Para 15 or 16: “Where a claim is specifically aimed at a particular group of consumers, such as children, it is desirable that the impact of the claim be assessed from the perspective of the average member of that group. The average consumer test is not a statistical test. National courts and authorities will have to exercise their own faculty of judgment, having regard to the case-law of the Court of Justice, to determine the typical reaction of the average consumer in a given case.”
Para 17 A nutrition or health claim should not be made if it is inconsistent with generally accepted nutrition and health principles or if it encourages or condones excessive consumption of any food or disparages good dietary practice.
Para 29 In some cases, scientific risk assessment alone cannot provide all the information on which a risk management decision should be based. Other legitimate factors relevant to the matter under consideration should therefore be taken into account
Para 34: Since the objective of this Regulation, namely to ensure the effective functioning of the internal market as regards nutrition and health claims whilst providing a high level of consumer protection, cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore be better achieved at Community level, the Community may adopt measures, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity as set out in Article 5 of the Treaty. In accordance with the principle of proportionality as set out in that Article, this Regulation does not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve that objective.
Note 4 Evidence that claims are aggressively and disproportionately used on baby foods (see Cymbal research) http://www.babymilkaction.org/archives/8812
Nutrients 2016, 8(3), 137; doi:10.3390/nu8030137 Prevalence of Nutrition and Health-Related Claims on Pre-Packaged Foods: A Five-Country Study in Europe Sophie Hieke 1,* , Nera Kuljanic 1, Igor Pravst 2,3, Krista Miklavec 2, Asha Kaur 4, Kerry A. Brown 5,Bernadette M. Egan 5, Katja Pfeifer 6, Azucena Gracia 7 and Mike Rayner 4 Abstract: http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/3/137/ 3.6. Which Types of Foods Carry NHC? “Foods for specific dietary uses” had the highest proportion of nutrition, health and symbolic claims (78%, 71%, and 24%, respectively). According to the classification scheme used in this study , this category includes foods intended for babies and infants (e.g., milk formulas and follow-on foods) but also meal replacements (e.g., diet shakes). In this sample, only baby foods were found. This corresponds to the findings reported in Table 3 where the highest number of claims found on a single product (17) was on two baby foods in Germany and Spain. It should be noted that the category of “Foods for specific dietary uses” only represents 2% (0.01%–0.03%) of all foods sampled in this study.