The European Commission is currently considering new legislation to overhaul the way that foods intended for particular nutritional uses (so-called ‘PARNUT’ or diatetic foods) are regulated. PARNUT foods are those which have been specially manufactured to satisfy the particular nutritional requirements of specific groups of the population and currently include:
- infant and follow-on formulas;
- foods for infants and young children up to three years of age;
- medical foods;
- foods for people intolerant to gluten (‘gluten-free’ and ‘very low gluten’);
- slimming foods; and
- other foods which companies currently notify to EU member states (for example, lactose-free foods).
The proposed EU Regulation would repeal Directive 2009/39/EC and abolish the concept of dietetic foods because its application differs significantly between member states and creates distortions in the internal market. Dietetic foods will be solely covered by other already existing legislation including the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation 1924/2006 and/or the Fortification Regulation 1925/2006.
Once the Regulation is finalised, it is likely to have a significant impact on the way in which the foods described above are regulated, notified and labelled.
The key points about the draft Regulation are:
- It only applies to the following three categories (i) infant and follow-on formula, (ii) foods intended for infants and young children aged up to three years, and (iii) medical foods. The new legislation will strengthen and clarify provisions for foods intended for these vulnerable groups of the population.
- It will repeal Commission Regulation (EC) No 41/2009 on foods for people intolerant to gluten (which is due to come into force on the 1 January 2012). Claims about gluten (‘gluten-free’ and ‘very low gluten’) will instead be regulated by the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation.
- It will establish a single consolidated list of substances (such as vitamins, minerals and other substances) and the appropriate levels at which they may be added to the foods covered by the proposal. Currently, there are three separate lists.
- It will introduce a centralised notification and authorisation system for PARNUT foods via the European Commission who will be advised by European Food Safety Authority.
- It will enable slimming foods and other PARNUT foods to be aligned with other existing food legislation.
- No products will have to be withdrawn from the market as a result of the new rules. Those currently covered by the dietetic food legislation can remain on the market but will be legislated fully by the other existing food rules. In order to facilitate the adaptation of products and reduce costs for operators, mainly in terms of re-labelling, a two-year transitional period is foreseen.
If the European Parliament and the Council agree on the proposal, the new EU Regulation could be in force by the end of 2012.