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Closing the gap between the food industry regulators and the regulated

Posted July 17, 2012 in Latest News

Sandeep Topiwala, Head of Regulatory Affairs at Ashbury Labelling:

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No one would downplay the public health imperative to ensure that food is labelled clearly, doesn’t mislead consumers and enables people to make informed decisions about their diet.

What does concern the food industry is that some regulatory decisions might not only damage businesses but actually harm public health as well – a true lose-lose outcome.

The list of permitted health claims is one of the more recent examples of the disconnect between the food industry and those in charge of regulating it.

After years of debate, thousands of health claims have been classified as ‘misleading’ and rejected by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and only a list of 222 health claims which EFSA have classed as scientifically substantiated, have been authorised.

It’s easy to understand why the approval of just 222 health claims has attracted a mixed response. The food industry was forced to jump through seemingly endless hoops to get to this stage – a fact underlined by the number of claims rejected as a result of a lack of data supplied.

There was a similarly mixed response from the food industry when the European Parliament voted to reject new ‘percentage less’ claims.

Once again, some believe the vote hasn’t fully considered the implications for the food industry.

Of course, this isn’t a simple issue – a product packed with sugar that reads ‘15% less sugar’, referring to its previous formulation, could potentially mislead consumers into believing they’re buying a low sugar product.

However, the wholesale rejection of percentage less claims seems to suggest that many MEPs aren’t aware of how difficult it is to cater to consumer taste while significantly reducing fat, sugar and salt.

Worse still, the ruling could damage consumer health if it means manufacturers no longer consider reformulating their products to be worth the effort.

Both of these recent decisions suggest the need for greater dialogue between the industry and politicians so that workable rulings can be drawn up.

After all, the only meaningful test of whether regulation is successful is the outcome it produces. Regulating effectively could be the difference between a damaged food industry and worsening public health and a healthy population and thriving industry.