Fabian Demicoli

Specialized food products: Better information to consumers

The European Commission adopted a draft regulation that will better inform consumers across the EU and achieving the aim of better and clearer legislation. 

For example, lactose-free food, slimming products or protein bars could be covered by the dietetic food legislation. The proposal repeals this directive and abolishes the concept of dietetic foods because its application differs significantly between Member States and creates distortions in the internal market. Dietetic foods will be solely covered by other already existing legislation, such as, for instance, the one on nutrition and health claims and/or the regulation on the addition of vitamins, minerals and other substances to foods.

 

The draft regulation strengthens and clarifies provisions for foods intended for vulnerable groups of the population who need particular protection – namely infants and children up to three years old, and people with specific medical conditions, such as cancer patients or individuals with metabolism disorders.

It does so by maintaining the existing compositional and labelling rules applicable to infant and follow-on formulae, processed cereal-based foods and other baby foods and foods for special medical purposes. Further, the proposal establishes a single EU list of substances, instead of the existing three, that can be added to these foods. The substances covered in the list include, among others, minerals and vitamins.

Other benefits

The new framework will result in less administrative burden, more clarity and consistency within the EU and consequently allow for more flexibility for the evolving, innovative food market.

No products will have to be withdrawn from the market as a result of the new rules. Those covered by the dietetic food legislation can remain on the market but will be legislated fully by the other pieces of existing food legislation. In order to facilitate the adaptation of products and reduce costs for operators, mainly in terms of re-labelling, a two-year transitional period is foreseen.

The proposal will be now submitted to the European Parliament and the Council. If these Institutions reach an agreement on the proposal the new regulation should be in force by the end of 2012.

Background

Foods for particular nutritional uses are defined by the existing framework legislation on dietetic foods, as foods that are different from foods for normal consumption and are specially manufactured products intended to satisfy the particular nutritional requirements of specific groups of the population.

The designation under which a dietetic food is sold is accompanied by a suitability statement for the particular nutritional use and the specific group of the population to whom the food is intended (e.g.: gluten-free food for celiac people, processed cereal-based food for young children, infant formulae for infants from birth, food for sports people etc).

After more than 30 years of application, and given the evolution of food products and the evolution of EU food legislation, a review of the dietetic food legislation became necessary. Specialised "normal" foods have increasingly been targeting sub-groups of the general population (e.g. protein bar supporting muscle building for sportspeople, food supplements for pregnant women, fortified food in calcium and vitamin D suitable for older adults, slimming products etc).

Consequently, the difference between "dietetic foods" for specific groups of the population and "specialised foods" for the general population or sub-groups is no longer clear for citizens, stakeholders and enforcement authorities. Therefore, it became clear that the existence of a specific EU framework for "dietetic foods" existing in parallel with other, more recent, pieces of legislation was no longer justified.  

 

 

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