EU DG Sante changes in policymaking strategy? The alcoholic beverages report case

The DG Sante of the EU Commission on 13th March 2017 published a report – due by 13th December 2014 – responding to the obligation set by Article 16(4) of Regulation (EU) No 1169/20111 on the provision of food information to consumers.

This provision exempted alcoholic beverages containing more than 1,2 % by volume of alcohol from the mandatory list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration and stated that the Commission shall produce a report addressing whether alcoholic beverages should be covered, in particular, by the requirement to provide the information on the energy value, and the reasons justifying possible exemptions, taking into account the need to ensure coherence with other relevant Union policies and considering in this context the need to propose a definition of ‘alcopops’.

Here below the Commission’s conclusions of the report and a brief comment about the solution proposed by the DG Sante:

“Under the current rules, unlike for other foods, the indication of the list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration is not obligatory for alcoholic beverages. With the nutrition declaration having become mandatory for the vast majority of pre-packed food as of 13 December 2016, the particular situation of alcoholic beverages is now even more salient.

European consumers have therefore reduced access to the nutrition declaration and to the list of ingredients with the exception of ingredients which may have an allergenic effect. The European Parliament, but also the World Health Organisation, consumer and public health organisations are now asking for new labelling rules for alcoholic beverages, especially concerning the labelling of the energy value.

Member States’ experts indicated some expectations, especially regarding the nutrition declaration, and more particularly for the mandatory labelling of the energy value.

In the past, the economic sectors concerned have voiced their opposition to a mandatory labelling regime. Today, the sector acknowledges the right of consumers to know what they are drinking. On that basis, an increasing number of voluntary initiatives have emerged providing consumers with information on the ingredients, the energy value or the full nutrition declaration of alcoholic beverages and addressing consumers’ expectations for more information on the drinks they consume. Originally, such voluntary information was mainly accessible through new information and communication technologies. However, according to information from the sector, it should now increasingly be found on the labels themselves.

In view of the lack of legal action in this area, some Member States have adopted national rules requesting partial indication of ingredients for certain alcoholic drinks. Even if the provisions for the nutrition declaration are fully harmonised, some Member States are also notifying national measures addressing the nutrition declaration for alcoholic beverages. Such national initiatives contribute to an increased risk of market fragmentation.

The list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration are key information particulars that help consumers to make more informed and healthier choices. The exemptions from the list of ingredients and from the nutrition declaration for certain foods cover, mainly, single ingredient products, whose name suffice to inform the consumers about their content, like salt, fruits and vegetables. However, in the case of alcoholic beverages, it cannot be assumed that consumers are necessarily aware of the generally various ingredients used in the production process and of their nutritional value.

On the basis of the information reviewed, the Commission has not identified objective grounds that would justify the absence of information on ingredients and nutrition information on alcoholic beverages or a differentiated treatment for some alcoholic beverages, such as ‘alcopops’. At this stage, the Commission therefore sees no need or clear added value for a specific definition of ‘alcopops’ for labelling purposes.

This report shows that the sector is increasingly prepared to provide responses to consumers’ expectations to know what they are drinking. This is demonstrated by the expansion of concerted or independent voluntary initiatives developed and implemented by the sector to provide consumers with information on the list of ingredients, the energy value and/or the full nutrition declaration on or off label. It has to be particularly noted that a rising number of alcoholic beverages present on the EU market already bear the full nutrition declaration. Taking into account these recent developments, the Commission considers that as a first step, current voluntary initiatives should be allowed to develop further so as to provide list of ingredients and nutrition declaration. It therefore invites the industry to respond to consumers’ expectations and present within a year of adoption of this report a self-regulatory proposal that would cover the entire sector of alcoholic beverages.

The Commission will assess the industry’s proposal. Should the Commission consider the self-regulatory approach proposed by the industry as unsatisfactory, it would then launch an impact assessment to review further available options: in line with Better Regulation principles this impact assessment would consider regulatory as well as non-regulatory options, in particular, regarding, the provision of information on the energy value of alcoholic beverages; such assessment should carefully consider the impact of options on the internal market, on the economic sectors concerned, on consumers’ needs and the actual use of this information, as well as on international trade.”

Commission’s recent conclusions are quite peculiar, at least in the food sector panorama. Since today, DG Sante never delegated similar tasks to industry: it has to be held in account that from one side the information discussed constitute – fundamentally – labeling obligation, but on the other side the choice to intervene or not could greatly impact on sensitive public health issues and on Member States expenses for prevention of NCDs and alcohol related diseases.

Politically speaking, this could be read as a signal of political weakness of the Commission? Maybe, but on my view it is more probably a way to “put the hot potato” in the hands of the industry, that in case of inaction will be most probably the target of the blame of the public opinion next year.

The efforts made by the industry in the recent years, in terms of consumer information and promotion of responsible consumption of alcohol, are undubitable: but now the sector has to show its full maturity and present a balanced proposal. Otherwise, it could face some difficult times on the road ahead.

EU Commission report on food intended for sportspeople

The report, published on 15th June 2016, is intended to meet the obligation set for the Commission by Article 13 of Regulation (EU) No 609/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council on food intended for infants and young children, food for special medical purposes, and total diet replacement for weight control (hereinafter ‘FSG Regulation’). According to this Article, the Commission is required to present to the European Parliament and to the Council, after consulting the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), a report on the necessity, if any, of provisions for food intended for sportspeople (hereinafter ‘sports food’).

The request for this report is linked to the repeal by the FSG Regulation of the framework on foodstuffs intended for particular nutritional uses, as of 20 July 2016. This framework was established by a Council Directive in 1989 and completed by the recast Directive 2009/39/EC.

Sports food can currently be classified either (1) as ‘foodstuff intended for particular nutritional uses’ under Directive 2009/39/EC or (2) as food for normal consumption governed by relevant horizontal rules of food law. The FSG Regulation does not include sports food within its scope, since it focuses on foods for certain vulnerable groups of consumers.

Thus, since a categorisation as foodstuff intended for particular nutritional uses will no longer be available to sports food, this type of food will be exclusively governed by horizontal rules of food law as from 20 July 2016.

This report reflects on potential consequences of the change of status for sports food.

It builds upon a market study carried out by the Food Chain Evaluation Consortium (FCEC Study) between January 2015 and June 2015. In the context of the preparation of this report, a consultation was carried out with national competent authorities and other interested parties.

The European Commission consulted the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which provided scientific and technical assistance regarding sports food. EFSA compiled existing scientific advice in the area of nutrition and health claims and Dietary References Values for adults that are relevant to sportspeople and informed the Commission that its subsequent advice does not differ from the recommendations of the Report of the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) adopted in 2001 on composition and specification of food intended to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort, especially for sportsmen.

Here below, the conclusions:

“There are clear indications that sport has become mainstream in the general population. Consequently, people carrying out sports activity can hardly be characterised as a specific vulnerable group of consumers but rather as a target group of the general population who is protected at an appropriate level by horizontal legislation.

In view of the growing completion of the horizontal rules of food law which took place in the last years, an appropriate legislative framework is in place to ensure that sports food classified nowadays as food intended for particular nutritional uses can remain on the market and can operate. The horizontal rules of food law provide the necessary safeguards for these products in terms of food safety, food composition, consumer information and legal certainty. As a result, not only all sports food products will be subject to the same legal requirements but they will have the same level of harmonisation as other foods falling under the horizontal rules of food law. It is expected that, through the simplification and clarification of the legal framework applicable for sports food, legal certainty will be enhanced and the current fragmentation based on the different legal frameworks reduced.

From this analysis, it can be concluded that there is no necessity for specific provisions for food intended for sportspeople. Nevertheless, sports food may include some element of specificity and the analysis in this report shows that this may have to be taken into account by the Commission in the application and implementation of the horizontal rules, so that such specificities can be adequately addressed. The Commission will ensure proper application of horizontal legislation and monitor the developments after 20 July 2016.”

(Source: DG Sante website)