Every month, the Whitehouse food and nutrition policy team brings you the latest policy and regulatory developments, helping you understand and shape the future of sustainable food systems. You can subscribe to our newsletter here to get exclusive insights directly into your inbox.
In addition, below you can find some of the top stories that caught our attention this month:
EFSA provides advice on nutrient profiling
On 19th April, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its scientific advice related to nutrient profiling. This advice will, alongside other evidence, inform the European Commission’s plans for the development of a future EU-wide system for front-of-pack nutrition labelling (FOPNL) and conditions for restricting nutrition and health claims on foods. The advice follows a public consultation on its draft opinion held from November 2021 to January 2022. This generated 529 comments from 83 organisations and individuals in 21 countries.
In its advice, EFSA states that intakes of energy, saturated fats, sodium, added and free sugars are too high in European diets, and reducing them would help combat chronic diseases linked to unhealthy diets. EFSA also concludes that excess intakes of saturated fatty acids, sodium and added/free sugars and inadequate intakes of dietary fibre and potassium are associated with adverse health effects, and as such, they could be included in nutrient profiling models. Energy might also be included, according to the proposals, because a reduction in energy intake is important for European populations’ health.
The scientific advice doesn’t provide an opinion on the specific scheme that should be used for EU harmonised FOPNL. The choice as to which scheme will be introduced throughout the EU is a highly debated issue. The European Commission, as risk manager, will be the one deciding on the final scheme to propose. The same scientific considerations could underpin the setting of nutrient profiling models but it will also fall on the Commission to decide on this.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament Research Service produced a briefing on nutrient profiles, which was prepared for MEPs and staff as background material to assist them in their parliamentary work. The document also highlights some stakeholder views, such as those of FoodDrinkEurope and the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), and scientific studies on this topic. The content of the briefing does not represent an official position of the Parliament, which will only be discussed and agreed on after the Commission publishes its proposal.
European Commission U-turn on protein strategy
On 4th April, Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski indicated that the European Commission is now supporting the creation of an EU-wide protein strategy, deviating from its original stance on the issue. During an exchange of views with the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) the Commissioner acknowledged that an EU-wide protein strategy ‘needs to be undertaken’. This is a change of position since the Commission previously turned down the Austrian Delegation call for an EU strategy on plant-based protein, which had been backed by all Member States. The Commissioner also expressed support for this idea during the recent Special Committee of Agriculture (SCA) meeting on 28th March, according to Brussels-based news outlet EurActiv.
The push for this strategy was originally initiated by the French and Austrian Agriculture Ministers, who in December 2021 signed a joint declaration urging the European Commission to start work on such a strategy to ensure greater food security in Europe. The Austrian proposal became even more relevant with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as it called on improving European production and focusing on local supply chains, while also supporting research and innovation in growing protein crops. The EU has a significant deficit in plant protein, relying heavily on imports, and this over-reliance has become a vulnerability with food prices increasing drastically and animal feed becoming a scarcity. The EU-wide plant-based protein strategy will potentially encourage protein sources to be produced in the EU to reduce dependency on third countries. The European Commission is expected to provide more information on this in the near future, but no exact dates have been officially communicated.
Switch to alternative following sunflower oil scarcity worries environmental groups
As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, multiple European food companies have been facing sunflower oil shortages, often having to look for alternatives such as palm oil. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) found in a report that demand for palm, soy and rapeseed oil has significantly increased in the wake of sunflower oil supply disruptions.
Environmental groups, such as the Alliance for the Preservation of Forests, have expressed concern that many European food-makers and other major industries are replacing sunflower oil with less sustainable alternatives. Their concern stems from the fact that a switch back to palm oil halts efforts to limit deforestation in countries in which palm oil and soy oil are often associated with forest degradation.
They argue that the upcoming Corporate Sustainable Due Diligence directive will become even more important as Europe is turning back to products potentially linked to deforestation. The proposal on deforestation-free imports which is currently being reviewed in the European Parliament and the Council, will become even more relevant in this context.
FoodDrinkEurope, meanwhile, has called for EU action to ensure the resilience of the European food industry. They highlight that many European food and drink companies are struggling to keep up their production and, further aggravated by the rising energy costs, several food processors across the EU have halted or scaled back their production.
DHSC publishes HFSS promotions restrictions guidelines
On 6th April, the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published the long-awaited implementation guidelines for the promotions restrictions on foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). The government introduced legislation to restrict the promotion of HFSS products by volume price (for example, ‘buy one, get one free’) and location, both online and in store in England. The guidance provides definitions, examples, and best practices for businesses on the application of these new rules, which will come into force in October 2022.
The government had consulted on restricting the promotion of HFSS products both online and in store in 2019. A further consultation on technical enforcement of the restrictions took place in 2020.
The food industry has expressed disappointment with these measures, with the Food and Drink Federation (FDF)’s chief executive, Karen Betts, commenting that “It’s disappointing that the UK Government has pressed ahead with restrictions on how everyday food and drink products, including breakfast cereals, ready meals, yoghurts and desserts, are promoted in shops. This will have a negative impact on the food and drink industry – the Government’s own estimates suggest businesses across the country will be hit by costs of over £1 billion a year – while the measures aren’t expected to impact rates of obesity. Our concern is also that, in implementing these measures now, the government is only adding to food price inflation.”
Meanwhile, cereal-producer Kellogg’s has launched legal action against the UK Government, as the new rules will ban some cereals from being prominently displayed on supermarket shelves. The company argues that the rules fail to acknowledge that most (92% of) people eat cereal with milk or yoghurt, which changes the nutritional profile of the cereal products that would then not be classified as HFSS food.
Dutch government boosts cellular meat & agriculture with huge investments
The Dutch government is making significant investments in the cellular agriculture industry. As part of its National Growth Fund, which aims to create economic growth by investing in innovative, economic sectors, an initial investment of €60 million will be made to support the industry in the Netherlands. This is possibly the largest sum of public money dedicated to this industry to date, making the country a frontrunner in this sector. The cellular agriculture industry focuses on the production of animal products, such as meat and dairy, directly from cells.
The new development follows a request for funding by Cellular Agriculture Netherlands (CAN), which comprises of 12 organisations including NGOs, corporates and academic institutions. One of the founders, Mosa Meat, expressed support for the ‘visionary leadership’ of the Dutch government. The Netherlands Cellular Agriculture Foundation also commented – translated from Dutch – that: “The Netherlands is the ideal place. We have laid the foundations for cellular agriculture and are the second largest exporter of traditional agricultural products. The Netherlands is also a powerhouse in alternative protein and food innovation, has a leading position in biotechnology and is the first country to publicly fund cultured meat research.”
The funding will be used to develop educational programmes, conduct scientific research and create societal integration. The country is aiming to invest a further €252 to €382 million in this industry, although an exact timeframe for when this may happen is not known at this stage. The expectation is that these investments will not only add about €10 billion to €14 billion to gross domestic product by 2050, but will also help in achieving some of the Netherlands’ environmental and health goals. Now it remains to be seen whether the Netherlands’ backing of cellular agriculture will gain a foothold in the rest of the European Union.
Food industry giants facing food recall
On 5th April, 134 cases of salmonella were reported across several European countries, with an unusually high proportion of children being hospitalised, some with severe clinical symptoms. The cause of the outbreak has been linked to products manufactured by Ferrero, as salmonella was found in milk powder from the Ferrero factory in Arlon, Belgium. The Belgian authorities have ordered the closure of the chocolate factory in Arlon and will be re-opening the site once it has been concluded that the establishment complies with all food safety rules and requirements. Ferrero recalled the products involved, and issued a statement saying it “sincerely apologises” for the explosion of salmonella cases.
Following the outbreak, EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) informed that they’re conducting a joint investigation on a multi-country outbreak of salmonella linked to chocolate products. Products recalls have been launched in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, and the UK, to prevent the consumption of products potentially contaminated.
The issue has reached discussions in the European Parliament, as a few MEPs discussed several recent outbreaks of food-borne disease in an exchange of views on 21st April between the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee and Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides. MEPs argued for more interventions from the European Commission to prevent such outbreaks and noted a recent decline of controls in Europe. Commissioner Kyriakides acknowledged the outbreaks of food-borne diseases in several Member States. While noting that food safety is of paramount importance in the EU, she reminded MEPs that national inspections and the enforcement of European sanctions are dependent on national enforcement.
Also facing major product recalls is Nestlé, whose Buitoni pizza brand was linked to an E. coli outbreak in France. Dozens fell sick after eating these pizzas, and two French children even passed away. Pizzas sold since June 2021 have been recalled and the factory in which they were produced has been shut down. Buitoni officials said the company will work with the French authorities to understand the cause of this outbreak and declared that production will not restart until the cause of this contamination has been identified and corrective measures taken. Nestlé’s CEO Mark Schneider said during a recent conference call that the company is taking the matter very seriously and defended the company’s record on and investment in food safety standards.
A note from Whitehouse’s PR team
A brand’s reputation has never been more important, and its management means building credit in the bank in terms of how your company is viewed by other stakeholders. Whitehouse PR expert, Scarlett Lawson, recently laid out why everyone – particularly those operating in the food and drink sector – needs an effective plan to manage their reputation.
This month, Whitehouse Communications launched a Reputation Management series, where our in-house reputation management and crisis communication experts explore real-world and fictional scenarios, highlighting the delicate nature of a business’ public image. In this edition, we looked at P&O ferries’ bungled handling of the decision to cut 800 jobs. Read it here.
To learn more about reputation management and crisis communications, get in touch with Whitehouse Director of Communications Mayar Raouf at email@example.com.
Want to continue the conversation on how organisations can effectively engage in initiatives as outlined above? Please do contact our team via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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