ESSNA canvasses sports nutrition sector to weigh-in on EU FOP labelling

By Nicola Gordon-Seymour

- Last updated on GMT

ESSNA canvasses sports nutrition sector to weigh-in on EU FOP labelling

Related tags ESSNA FOP Europe

The European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) has launched an industry-wide survey to gauge the impact of mandatory front-of-pack nutritional labelling (FOPNL), expected to be introduced across the EU by the end of the year.

A proposal for mandatory labelling was submitted by the European Commission (EC) in 2020 and has subsequently received positive feedback from public consultations and food industry stakeholders, including major retailers.

However, the ESSNA is now canvassing the sports and active nutrition sector to add their collective response and “ensure the views of the sector are considered in any future rules set at the EU level”.

ESSNA Chairman, Dr Adam Carey, comments: “Any forthcoming FOPNL obligations need to be based on sound evidence and take into account the specificities of specialist food sectors.

“This is why ESSNA is launching an industry wide survey to collect first-hand information on the predicted impact of new obligations on our sector.”

Ambiguous labelling

While the ESSNA broadly supports the EC’s objective, it points out the shortcomings of FOPNL in sports nutrition where products are formulated to satisfy specific dietary needs and may score poorly, making it difficult for consumer to understand the benefits and “defeating the very purpose of these initiatives”​.

Dr Carey asserts: “Sports foods are purposefully formulated with higher levels of nutrients, usually protein or carbohydrates, to cater for the specific dietary needs of those undertaking physical activity and performing exercise.

“The nutrient profiling framework underpinning the FOPNL has to consider the specific dietary needs of sports people, which are different from those of the general population.” ​ 

The ESSNA questionnaire will gather information to determine the extent of sector compliance to voluntary FOP schemes, the cost implications, and other knock-on effects (on product demand or competitive edge, for example) of FOP schemes, as well as general attitudes towards a harmonised system. The closing date for input is September 16th​.

Harmonised approach

The scheme proposed by the EC aims to establish a harmonised approach to food labelling.

There are currently no compulsory EU rules on FOP. Nutritional labelling is regulated by the Food Information to Consumers (FIC) Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, which includes the sport and active nutrition industry, and legislates for transparent labelling on food characteristics, properties, compositional attributes, and health-related issues, for example. However, there are no unified guidelines on scheme structure.

The EC proposal is part of the EU’s 10-year Farm to Fork (F2F) action plan to become ‘climate-neutral’ by 2050 and will impose standardised mandatory FOP nutritional labelling, extend mandatory origin or provenance information for certain products, and revise rules on date marking (such as ‘use by’​ and ‘best before’​ dates).

New regulations will also introduce ‘nutrient profiles’ to restrict the promotion of foods high in fats, sugars, and/or salt.

FOP rules

Front-of-pack labelling aims to increase the visibility of nutritional information in a simplified format and encourage health-oriented reformulations, but while ‘back-of-pack’ nutrition declarations are mandatory in the UK, FOP signalling is currently voluntary, according to government guidelines​.

FOP can include additional information on the overall nutritional quality of food, as long as it is based on scientific evidence, although established rules do not apply to food supplements.

Most major food manufacturers already adhere to UK FOP regulations (which are largely based on EU rules) and use the government’s recommended colour-coded ‘traffic light’ labelling​ and percentage reference intakes (RIs).

Other EU countries observe different labelling protocols, such as the French Nutri Score scheme or the Nordic Keyhole system.

The ESSNA indicates that the popularity of French system suggest it could be the template for new mandatory legislation. This is underpinned by recommendations from the French Health Ministry that the scheme should include an exemption for sports nutrition products, although the EC has not yet confirmed the final format.

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