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European Commission Rules on Sports Nutrition

After more than a decade of debate around how the industry should be regulated, last month the European Commission confirmed that there need be no specific legislation covering sports nutrition—and like any other food product, the sector will fall under general food law.

The sports nutrition industry can rejoice. After more than a decade of debate around how the industry should be regulated, last month the European Commission confirmed that there need be no specific legislation covering sports nutrition—and like any other food product, the sector will fall under general food law. To us here at the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), this is a breakthrough after a long and contentious legislative journey. But why is this a good thing, and how will this affect you as a responsible sports nutrition brand?

Perhaps most important, it puts an end to the constant regulatory uncertainty that had been hanging over our industry for years, threatening to stifle innovation and curtail growth. There have been many a legislative threat to the sector that would have seen brands undergoing extreme restructuring to meet restrictive definitions of what could and could not be used and sold, and ultimately major reductions in the numbers of products available for consumers to choose from. General food law puts an end to these threats.

This is a clear case of the law catching up with real life. Sports nutrition products are much more widespread today than they were 10 years ago, and are used by anyone from a casual jogger to a martial artist. The new legislative framework recognises this, acknowledging that sports nutrition is a safe, effective part of the food industry and liberalising laws covering it accordingly. This means breathing space for sports nutrition companies to now grow and develop, and gives them the ability to cater to their various different consumers while still keeping their safety the No. 1 priority.

Even better, the Commission has recognised that while there isn’t very much that makes sports nutrition products different from general foods, the nutritional needs of each respective food group’s consumers do differ and need to be taken into account. In simple terms: the number of people engaging in exercise has increased, and specific nutritional requirements cannot be met by their everyday diets—for example, a swimmer who is hoping for extra energy during a race or a boxer who is looking to speed up recovery after an injury. This condition from the Commission should, in theory, streamline processes such as the nutrition and health claims regulation and labelling, making it easier for sports nutrition brands to sell and market the products their consumers need.

Last but by no means least, the clarification of this legal framework will mean that all national legislation specific to sports foods will be repealed, ensuring the proper functioning of the internal market. Thus different Member States will no longer be allowed to get away with setting conflicting—and sometimes restrictive—legislation that hampers free movement of goods and puts consumers at risk. Although finally sweeping away this restrictive legislation is the biggest challenge the sector has, sports nutrition’s move into general food law is, indeed, a watershed moment for the industry.

Adam Carey, M.D., Ph.D., is the chair of the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA).

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