EFSA publishes nutrient profiling advice for front-of-pack labelling

20 Apr 2022

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published its scientific advice intended to inform how nutrition information is presented on the front of food packaging, including potential restrictions on health claims.

In line with its draft opinion published in January 2022, EFSA found that European intakes of energy, saturated fats, sodium and added sugars were too high, while potassium and dietary fibre intakes were too low among most European adult populations. It has also identified iodine, folate, iron, calcium and vitamin D as lacking among certain sub-groups. The findings are intended to form the basis of new rules on nutrition and health claims based on a food’s overall contribution to health. Foods that are high in saturated fat, energy, salt or sugar might not be permitted to carry a health claim, for instance.

EFSA publishes nutrient profiling advice for front-of-pack labelling

The opinion will also inform the development of a harmonised, mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling system. Current models include Nutri-Score in countries like France and Germany, and the Keyhole scheme in Nordic countries, while others use a traffic light approach.

Front-of-pack labelling, health claims – and other public health strategies

The European Commission asked EFSA to provide an opinion on front-of-pack nutrition labelling and which criteria should be used to restrict nutrition and health claims, but EFSA has stressed that it was not tasked with assessing any particular nutrient profiling model.

“It is up to public health authorities how to prioritise strategies for the prevention of chronic metabolic diseases, including obesity and cardiovascular diseases,” it said. “Options may include, for example, nutritional strategies and policy in EU Member States, nutrition-related campaigns, nutrition education at young ages on healthy diets, as well as front-of-pack labelling or the use of health claims on food. EFSA is not involved in these decisions.”

The Commission now intends to propose revised legislation on how nutrition information is presented to consumers before the end of the year as part of its Farm to Fork Strategy.

Considering dietary patterns, from Mediterranean to Nordic

Some industry sectors, such as olive oil producers and juice manufacturers, have argued that at-a-glance labels can be unfair to certain foods and drinks as they tend to oversimplify their role within an overall dietary pattern – and EFSA has attempted to answer these concerns in its final opinion.

“The Mediterranean-style diet pattern and the New Nordic diet-style pattern, also called Baltic Sea diet-style pattern, are mentioned as European dietary patterns associated with lower chronic disease risk while identifying food groups which have important roles in the diets of European populations and subgroups thereof, as requested by the Commission,” it said. “Olive oil is also addressed within this context with other oils and fats.”

The European Consumers’ Organisation, BEUC, has welcomed EFSA’s opinion, saying it supports mandatory labelling across the EU.

“BEUC strongly supports the setting of nutrient profiles for the use of nutrition and health claims which can be a powerful influence on consumers’ purchasing choices,” it said in a statement.

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