Reversing a European food classification that would have destroyed an industry.
The European Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) Industry Group (now known as TDMR Europe) is the European trade body for manufacturers and distributors of slimming foods, set up to campaign for appropriate and proportionate legislation for the sector. Members of the Group provide weight loss and weight management programmes designed for the overweight and obese based on both Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCDs) containing less than 800 kcals per day and Low Calorie Diets (LCDs) containing between 800 – 1200 kcals per day. Member companies operate predominantly in the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany and Spain.
The commercial interests of the sector were threatened by the revision of EU legislation on slimming foods. Initially a campaign was mounted to include VLCDs under the definition of foods for special medical purposes. This would have meant VLCDs would only have been usable under medical supervision and would have undermined the business practices of the industry, with many companies distributing their products through qualified consultants but not necessarily under medical supervision.
Following the defeat of these proposals, the European Commission then proposed compositional criteria for slimming foods that were not commercially viable and would have led to the disappearance of VLCDs as a category of foods altogether.
Whitehouse, which provides the Industry Group’s secretariat, created and implemented a vigorous EU-wide public affairs campaign involving distributors across all the EU countries in which the Group’s members operated.
The European VLCD Industry Group was positioned as the main and most influential trade association for manufacturers and distributors of VLCD products in both UK and Europe, with policy makers contacting the group when relevant matters relating to the revision of the dietetic foods legislation arose.
Whitehouse initiated a comprehensive programme of direct communication and stakeholder engagement with MEPs, key officials at the European Commission, the Permanent Representations and Competent Authorities of the then 27 member states, including the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK. This programme was carefully managed to ensure that Members’ concerns were noted at the highest possible level and that Members’ comments and views were incorporated into the revised legislation.
During this programme of communication and engagement, Whitehouse built up excellent relations with Commission policy-makers, MEPs and other trade associations with similar interests.
The idea of classifying VLCDs under the definition of medical foods has now been abandoned, as the new legislation, Regulation (EU) 609/2013 on food intended for infants and young children, food for special medical purposes, and total diet replacement for weight control was adopted in summer 2013. Instead, total diet replacements for weight control will benefit from a specific set of rules – setting out specific compositional and labelling criteria – that were developed by the European Commission following an opinion by the European Food Safety Authority.
Initially these rules were highly unfavourable to the industry, as they specified compositional criteria that would have made VLCDs as a product category so commercially unviable that it would have disappeared from the market. Drawing on previous relationships, however, Whitehouse has deployed scientific and safety arguments with the Commission, presented a united industry front in co-operation with other trade groups and ensured the support of interested MEPs. This combination of tactics has resulted in the Commission delaying the passage of this unfavourable legislation whilst they review its appropriateness and later introducing a five years transition period for new measures to apply.
A proportionate, appropriate and comprehensive law covering slimming foods will allow European citizens to help themselves lose weight without placing further burdens on the time and financial resources of Member State public health systems
Additionally, the European VLCD Industry Group has established a good relationship and reputation with policy makers at the EU level, notably the European Commission, and is now consulted on all developments affecting this particular food sector.
Whitehouse Communications’s skill at navigating the different European Union institutions and different cultures and presenting the VLCD Industry Group’s argument in an appropriate way was absolutely crucial to ensuring a successful outcome to the revision of this legislation. Without Whitehouse’s ability to spot problems, contact the most relevant official or MEP and work on a solution, it is unlikely that the Members of the Group would have achieved the legal clarity and opportunity needed to expand our work in all 28 Member States.