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Stronger nutrition policies needed to protect infants, says SNE

Article-Stronger nutrition policies needed to protect infants, says SNE

© iStock/Stefan Tomic SNE calls for stronger nutrition policies to protect infants
Specialised Nutrition Europe (SNE) has updated its manifesto, emphasising the need for policies that enforce common standards to safeguard the nutritional requirements of vulnerable groups such as young infants.

Launched last month, the manifesto sets out a series of requests by the industry group that requests specific regulation be put in place to standardise Young Child Formula for children from 12 to 36 months along with sports-focused nutrition among products.

The EU’s strict Foods for Specific Groups Regulation that outlines common standards guaranteeing optimum nutrition currently excludes these groups from the rules that dictate their development and manufacture.

“We have observed a recurring issue on the different ways member states interpret EU rules on these specialised nutrition products, resulting in potential barriers within the EU’s internal market,” said Beat Späth, SNE’s secretary general.

“This is even more pressing for product categories where specific EU legislation is lacking, such as Young Child Formula (for one- to three-year-olds) and sport foods.”

Special categorisation for products where specific EU legislation is lacking

For products where specific EU legislation is lacking, Späth explained that member states may develop ways to manage such products, for example arbitrarily classifying these products in another category to ensure notifications before marketing (such as sports food treated as food supplements or fortified foods).

Another example is products covered by the Foods for Specific Groups Regulation, where differences of interpretations by member states establish drastically different requirements when the regulation is harmonised.

“We have recently flagged to the European Commission the challenges we are facing in the category of Foods for Special Medical Purposes, where manufacturers are challenged on the product characteristics provided on the front-of-pack labels with different member states’ interpretations, when this is an essential source of information for healthcare professionals and patients,” he said.

SNE recommendations for products that address obesity and malnutrition

The manifesto, launched in time for June’s elections of representatives for the EU Parliament’s 2024-2029 term, also highlights the impact of obesity and malnutrition on healthcare systems.

According to the Global Nutrition Report, the Europe region's adult population faces a population burden regarding its overweight levels, with 25.3% of women and 24.9% of men living with obesity.

At the other extreme, fellow industry organisation Medical Nutrition Industry (MNI) identifies malnutrition as a condition that affects 33 million people in Europe, costing European countries an estimated €170 billion annually.

“Obesity, malnutrition and food allergies are major challenges across the EU, and we believe that a more co-ordinated approach at EU level is needed,” said Späth. “We think that the process should start with a structured dialogue with policy makers and all the corresponding stakeholders. 

“Some decision makers are considering to extend the existing ban on health claims for infant formula (0 to 6 months) to additional product categories. This could lead to an increase in infants and young children fed with general foods which do not adequately address specific needs from a nutritional and food safety standpoint.”

Taking inspiration from foods covered by the EU’s Foods for Specific Groups Regulation

Späth wanted to see EU policymakers regulate these products in a similar way to the EU in regulating foods covered by the Foods for Specific Groups Regulation.

With Young Child Formula, the composition should be regulated by implementing the updated Codex Standard into EU law, taking into account the nutritional needs of young children in the EU.

“As a first step, we need the EU to develop Nutrient Reference Values for the labels of products for young children (12 to 36 months), as reference values for specific population groups are foreseen in the EU’s Food Information to consumers regulation since 2011,” said Späth.

A definition of sports foods is currently missing in EU legislation, he added, pointing out that it was essential that a specific definition for sports foods is established at European level to distinguish these products, which have been scientifically designed to meet the specific nutritional needs of sports people, from general food products.

“The category should be recognised as such to ensure proper formulation and composition/fortification levels, as well as labelling,” added Späth.

“The diversity of national rules or interpretations is threatening the functioning of the EU single market, creates operational burdens and hinders innovation for companies. It would also lead to consumers not having access to the same or equivalent products in all member states.”