The European Commission as part of the European Green Deal program adopted on May 20, 2020 the “Farm to Fork” strategy for a fair, healthy market and an environmentally friendly food system (COM (2020) 381 final).
The strategy announces that to promote sustainable food consumption and facilitate the transition to a healthy lifestyle, the Commission will take steps to empower consumers to make informed, healthy and sustainable food choices.
On the same date, the Commission also presented a Staff Working Document for the evaluation of the regulation on nutrition and health claims (SWD (2020) 95 final); the evaluation analyzed the impact of the failure to define nutritional profiles (set of conditions relating to the nutritional content of foods for foods bearing nutrition and health claims) and whether they are still suitable for guaranteeing the objectives of the claims regulation. Overall, the results of the evaluation show that the specific objective pursued by the definition of nutritional profiles is still relevant and necessary to meet the objective of the regulation, i.e. a high level of consumer protection, and that, therefore, the process of definition of nutritional profiles needs to be further pursued.
Article 4 of Regulation 1924/2006 relating to nutrition and health claims made on food products had provided for the Commission to establish (by 19 January 2009) the specific nutritional profiles to which foods or certain categories of foods must comply in order to bear nutrition or health claims, as well as the necessary conditions. In response to the Commission's request, EFSA in January 2008 adopted a Scientific Opinion of the group of experts on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies in order to define nutritional profiles for foods bearing nutrition and health claims. The experts considered the main scientific data to take into consideration the ability of a food to negatively affect the general dietary balance, the dietary role of the different categories of food and the necessary consistency between the profiles and dietary guidelines established in the individual states. members of the EU.
Despite the initial premises, also due to some controversies and opposition in some member states, currently the nutritional profiles have not yet been defined at European level.
Nutritional profiles can have different applications, in addition to health and nutrition claims, they also play a fundamental role for front-of-pack nutrition labeling schemes (so-called Front-of-Packs or FOPs). There are three main approaches to applying nutritional criteria to FOPs; the specific approach depends on the nutrition labeling system used at the front of the pack.
- The first consists in enumerating the nutritional contribution that a food makes to the recommended reference intakes; information on individual nutrients is kept separate. This approach is used in non-interpretative FOP schemes;
- The second is the one that establishes threshold points for individual nutrients, which divide the contributions of the various nutrients into categories that can be classified (e.g. high, medium and low in the case of the traffic light label) or be part of a binary system. (e.g. meeting the standard and not meeting the standard in case of logos). Information on individual nutrients is kept separate. For approval logos, products display the logo only when all threshold points for individual nutrients are met;
- The third approach consists in applying algorithms to derive a consolidated score that represents the overall nutritional profile of the products. The information on the individual nutrients is combined. It is typical for synthetic FOP schemes.
According to the Commission, the application of approaches that are based on nutrient profiling in order to define the nutrition labeling of the front of the pack and in order to limit nutrition and health claims on foods should evaluate dietary recommendations, considerations on public health, scientific evidence on the relationship between diet, nutrition and health as well as other considerations of an industrial / commercial, cultural and dietary / gastronomic nature. At the same time, such approaches should stimulate the reformulation (possibly in favor of health effects) of products and take into account traditions and the variability of eating habits.
In order to stimulate sustainable food processing and to facilitate the transition to healthier diets, the Commission will present by the end of 2022, in parallel with a proposal for FOP nutrition labeling harmonized at European level, a project on the definition of nutritional profiles to limit the promotion (through nutrition and health claims) of foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
EFSA SCIENTIFIC OPINION
In order to present this proposal, the European Commission requested and obtained from EFSA to receive a scientific opinion by March 2022 that will cover the following aspects:
- Nutrients important for the health of the European population (eg energy and fiber);
The considerations inherent to these substances must be based on the evidence of a food imbalance in European populations that could influence the development of cases of obesity and diseases related to poor nutrition. Nutrients that tend to be consumed in excess will be examined, as well as those that are consumed insufficiently.
- Food groups / subgroups that play an important role in the diets of European populations;
Those groups / subgroups of foods that have an important role in the diet of citizens will be taken into consideration by virtue of:
- energetic quantity, presence of macro-micronutrients and other substances of physiological importance;
- role and importance of this group / subgroup of foods in the diet (with particular attention to risk categories such as children);
- overall nutritional composition;
- presence / absence of nutritional elements which have been scientifically recognized as having an effect on health;
- Criteria to guide the choice of nutrients and other components in order to establish nutritional profiles.
For the drafting of the opinion, EFSA experts will draw on recent scientific information, including reviews of nutritional recommendations for a healthy diet based on scientific evidence. In addition to this, the document will be based on scientific studies by EFSA on reference values for nutrition, nutritional guidelines of individual European countries based on food and a complete examination of the various FOP labeling systems made available by the European Commission.
A public consultation on the draft opinion will be launched by the end of 2021.