Words of Wisdom: The Future of Nutrient Profiling

* 4 min read

It seems to be within the nature of manufacturers and retailer to wish to drive on nutrition and health claims on food. This can in fact be very helpful and of value to consumers identifying key benefits from a nutrition and health perspective. Nutrition claims are those claims that identify a positive characteristic of the food with regard to the nutrients present. The European legislation dealing with nutrition and health claims [EU Regulation 1924/2006] provides a positive list for nutrition claims and only those claims can be used. Health claims are those claims that create a link between the food in question or an ingredient within the food and positive health – there is a positive list of health claims which is presently still being added to by EFSA as it continues its evaluation of submitted claims. 

In order that positive claims could not be made on foods that are not by their nature healthy, taking into account all their characteristics, the legislation required the following:

 “By 19 January 2009, the Commission shall establish specific nutrient profiles, including exemptions, which food or certain categories of food must comply with in order to bear nutrition or health claims and the conditions for the use of nutrition or health claims for foods or categories of foods with respect to the nutrient profiles.

The nutrient profiles for food and/or certain categories of food shall be established taking into account in particular:

(a) The quantities of certain nutrients and other substances contained in the food, such as fat, saturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids, sugars and salt/sodium;

(b) The role and importance of the food [or of categories of food] and the contribution to the diet of the population in general or, as appropriate, of certain risk groups including children;

(c) The overall nutritional composition of the food and the presence of nutrients that have been scientifically recognised as having an effect on health.”

This deadline was not met in 2009 nor has it been actioned since, hence, if a food meets the criteria of any nutrition and/or health claim, that claim can be made on the food even if other characteristics of the food are not positive. To the great disappointment of Sun Branding Solutions Legal in June 2015 the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs [JURI] adopted an Opinion on the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme [REFIT] and this included a call on the European Commission ‘to review the scientific basis of this Regulation [EU Regulation 1924/2006] and how useful and realistic it is and, if appropriate, to eliminate the concept of nutrient profiles’.

A vote was taken on the REFIT programme at the European Parliament Plenary Session in April 2016 and MEPs supported the elimination of the concept of nutrient profiles for nutrition and health claims. This was bad news for many as it suggested that ‘good claims could still be made on bad foods’. Thankfully, matters did not rest there and Public Health England [PHE] is presently in the process of reviewing the Department of Health Nutrient Profiling Model [NPM] to consider its fitness for purpose. Originally this model was created by the Food Standards Agency in order to create a control for the advertising of foods intended for children.

With regard to this process, Public Health England has set up two stakeholder groups to help with the work. One of the groups is an expert group that includes academics who will be in a position to test the model against technical criteria, there will also be a reference group who will oversee the work and offer comment and feedback. The purpose behind the review is to ensure that the Nutrient Profiling Model reflects the latest dietary guidance and more specifically recommendations made by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition in their report on Carbohydrates and Health with respect for sugar and fibre.

A number of stages in the review process remain outstanding but by June of 2018 it is expected that Ministerial agreement will have been reached on the outcome of the consultation and decision and a preferred option agreed. Then an impact assessment will be generated and a draft of the model for peer review and options generated for the new model with the development and finalisation of the guidance and the tool kit. Ultimately by the end of June 2018 it is hoped that there will be a developed and finalised form of guidance and tools to support the implementation. All of this being good news as it was thought that nutrient profiling had come to an end in April 2016, now there is reason to be optimistic that in the UK at least nutrition and health claims will be appropriately used.