Pressure is mounting on the FSA to overhaul its Nutrient Profiling Model after the European Food Safety Authority told Brussels it believed an EU-wide model could exempt - or make special conditions for - HFSS foods that play a key role in the diet.
EFSA was responding to a request from the European Commission for advice on establishing a model to regulate health claims. Under new rules to be introduced by 2010, foods containing high levels of two or more 'bad' components are likely to be prohibited from carrying positive health claims .
This week, issuing its recommendations, EFSA said: "A nutrient profiling scheme could be applied across all foods with a limited number of exemptions for specific food groups that play an important role in various diets . These exemptions, if necessary, could take the form of specific profiles to ensure some products in these groups are eligible to bear claims."
Categories to be exempted could include unprocessed products such as fresh produce, meat and fish. But they could also include vegetable oils, spreadable fats, dairy products, cereal products and non-alcoholic beverages.
The news is a major boost to producers of HFSS products such as dairy and breakfast cereals, who feared they could be prevented from promoting the health benefits of their products. "What EFSA is saying is that nutrient profiling is not simple," said Ed Komorowski, technical director at Dairy UK. "They are saying that what is required is a balanced diet. It's a very sensible opinion."
Back in the UK, the advice could have ramifications for the FSA's nutrient profiling model. The model has come under fire because it applies a 100g baseline portion, which means products eaten in far smaller quantities can't be advertised to kids. Its inadequacies were laid bare by The Grocer's Weigh It Up! campaign last year.
Owen Warnock, partner at Eversheds, said he expected EFSA's advice to be taken seriously by the authorities here. "I would expect Ofcom to review the model it uses once the EU nutrient profiles are adopted."