Nutritionists and other experts can help EFSA finalise scientific advice that will support decision-makers develop a future EU-wide system for front-of-pack nutrition labelling. The advice will also inform conditions for restricting nutrition and health claims on foods.
As part of the Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission asked EFSA in early 2021 to provide scientific advice on the nutrients and non-nutrient food components of public health importance for Europeans, food groups with important roles in European diets, and scientific criteria to guide the choice of nutrients for nutrient profiling. The Commission intends to propose new legislation at the end of 2022.
Scientific basis to support EU decision makers
Valeriu Curtui, EFSA’s nutrition head, said: “We are holding a public consultation to gather scientific input from other experts, institutional partners and stakeholders on our draft scientific opinion.
“We would like to remind everyone with an interest in this topic that our scientific advice aims to inform nutrient profiling modelling for front-of-pack nutrition labelling and for restricting claims on foods. This draft opinion is not, however, evaluating or proposing a particular nutrient profiling model for front-of-pack nutrition labelling.”
What does the draft opinion say?
Dr Alfonso Siani chairs the EFSA expert working group that helped to draft the scientific opinion. “Our draft opinion provides advice to policy-makers about which nutrients and non-nutrient components of food to consider for inclusion in nutrient profiling models where excessive or inadequate intakes are associated with risks of long-term disease.”
The draft opinion concludes, amongst others, the following could be considered in nutrient profiling models:
- Considering the high prevalence of overweight and obesity in Europe, a decrease in energy intake is of public health importance for European populations.
- Saturated fats, sodium, added/free sugars intakes exceed dietary recommendations in most European populations and excess intakes are associated with adverse health effects.
- Dietary fibre and potassium intakes are inadequate in most European adult populations and inadequate intakes are associated with adverse health effects.
The draft also notes that iron, calcium, vitamin D, folate and iodine intakes are inadequate in specific sub-populations and usually addressed by national policies and/or individual advice.
“Although the choice of nutrients and non-nutrients in a nutrient profiling model should be driven primarily by their public health importance,” stated Dr Siani, “they may also be included for other reasons such as to prioritise some foods even when the science is not 100% clear that an increase in their consumption is needed for public health reasons. For example, risk managers may decide to include some omega-3s in nutrient profiling models to encourage fatty fish consumption in line with their dietary recommendations, even though data on intakes of these fatty acids are insufficient to conclude whether they are consumed in inadequate amounts or not.”
Food groups in European diets and national recommendations
“Our opinion also includes scientific considerations regarding food groups which have an important role in European diets,” said Dr Siani.
These include starchy foods (mostly cereals and potatoes), fruits and vegetables, legumes and pulses, milk and dairy, meat and meat products, fish and shellfish, nuts and seeds, and non-alcoholic beverages, as recognised in national food-based dietary guidelines in Member States. Their dietary roles and relative contributions vary across countries owing to dietary habits and traditions.
Dr Siani said: “National guidelines encourage consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fat-reduced milk and dairy products, fish and water. But food products high in saturated fats, sugars and/or sodium owing to food processing are generally discouraged, even within these food categories.
“They also promote regular consumption of legumes and pulses instead of meat (particularly red meat and processed meat), and vegetable oils rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead of those high in saturated fats.”