Spain: New regulations control nutrition information on food labels

nutrition facts label The Ministry of Health is to defend the consumer’s right to receive “truthful” information about the foods they buy, both in advertising and on the packets themselves, to avoid firms providing “confusing, exaggerated or misleading” data about a product’s nutritional content or benefits for health.

The Minister, Elena Salgado, announced the move last week in the company of the president of the Spanish Agency for Food and Nutrition Safety (AESAN), Félix Lobo, who added that the new European guidelines on the issue would come into force on July 1st 2007.

Salgado explained that the EU regulations stated that descriptions such as “rich in vitamins”, “low calorie”, “no added sugar” or “fat free”, which are becoming more and more common in the promotion of products, must be based on “proved scientific evidence”. She added that the measures would prevent the use of confusing messages to attract consumer attention and at the same time protect consumer health.

As well as supervising the nutrition information provided, the regulations will also control the use of messages that claim that certain products reduce the risk of developing certain illnesses. The law will also promote “fair competition” between different firms when it comes to advertising and product labelling, explained the Minister.

As an example, Salgado said that “a manufacturer will not be able to claim that a plate of pasta has the same nutritional content as a plate of vegetables” without internationally accepted scientific evidence, which in Spain will be controlled by the AESAN.

The regulation will “in no case” allow therapeutic or curative claims and establishes “very rigorous restrictions” when it comes to the description of foods aimed directly or indirectly at children, such as claims that a product “will help your children grow”.

Finally the Minister pointed out that when a product has both beneficial and harmful qualities these must be stated. The positive qualities can be highlighted but the “less healthy effects must be clearly explained”.

Therefore alcoholic drinks with more than 1.2 per cent volume cannot claim they are healthy in order to attract consumption. In this way the European legislation means that statements such as “wine is good for your heart” cannot be used, concluded the Minister.

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