Encouraging healthy food choices

An EU-wide conference on Food Product Improvement was held earlier this year in Amsterdam which brought together representatives from the food industry, retail and supermarkets, NGOs and the EU member states. In addition, the World Health Organisation and non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland also took part – making this event the first time these organisations had come together on such a large scale.

The conference approved a “Roadmap for Action”, which calls for combined action to make food products healthier by gradually reducing the amount of salt, saturated fat and sugar (calories). This means a public-private partnership between experts from the member states and representatives of the food industry, patients’ associations and consumer organizations.

Several EU countries are already reducing salt, saturated fats and sugars in food products. This conference has paved the way for the Informal and Formal European Council meetings of the Ministers of Health later this spring where it is hoped to reach political agreement about implementation of the Roadmap.

To download the Roadmap for Action in English from the rijksoverheid.nl website

“We love eating” project

This European initiative wanted to promote healthy lifestyles and took a fun and upbeat approach to healthy eating, focusing on 6 messages:

  • Enjoy shopping for a healthy meal
  • Enjoy cooking
  • Enjoy eating together
  • Enjoy drinking water
  • Enjoy colourful fruits and vegetables
  • Enjoy physical exercise

Although aimed at the general public, the project was targeted to children, pregnant women and older people who are in key life stages where good nutrition is particularly important.

To read more about “we love eating” on the ec.europa.eu website

Foodborne diseases

Although the WHO European Region has the lowest estimated burden of foodborne diseases globally, the report “Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases” indicates that more than 23 million people in the Region fall ill from eating contaminated food annually, resulting in 5000 deaths.

Diarrhoeal diseases account for the majority of foodborne illnesses in the WHO European Region, the most common being norovirus infections, which cause an estimated 15 million cases, followed by campylobacteriosis, which causes close to 5 million cases. Non-typhoid salmonellosis causes the most deaths – almost 2000 annually.

Foodborne toxoplasmosis, a severe parasitic disease caught by eating undercooked or raw meat and fresh produce, may cause up to 20% of the total foodborne disease burden and affects more than 1 million people in the Region each year. Listeria infection can result in septicaemia and meningitis and causes an estimated 400 deaths in the European Region annually. People are usually infected with Listeria by consuming contaminated raw vegetables, ready-to-eat meals, processed meats, smoked fish or soft cheeses.

This report is the most comprehensive to date on the impact of contaminated food on health and well-being and provides estimates of the burden of foodborne diseases caused by 31 agents – bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals.

To read more about the report on the euro.who.int website

Global recommendations to stop childhood obesity

The World Health Assembly recently adopted a global target for all countries to renew their efforts to halt the rise of obesity in children under 5 by 2025.

The Commission’s recommendations to address childhood obesity cover six areas:

  • promotion of intake of healthy foods;
  • promotion of physical activity;
  • preconception and pregnancy care;
  • early childhood diet and physical activity;
  • health, nutrition and physical activity for school-age children;
  • weight management.

To read the report and other publications on childhood obesity on the euro.who.int website.

Novel food

New rules on novel food aim to improve conditions, so that businesses can more easily bring new and innovative food to the EU market, while still maintaining a high level of food safety for European consumers. It will offer European consumers the benefit of a broader choice of food and a more favourable environment for Europe’s agri-food industry to benefit from innovation.

For more information on what exactly novel foods are, on the europa.eu website

Getting safe surplus food to those who need it most

In the EU, around 90 million tons of foods are wasted yearly (2006 estimate), while 55 million people suffer from food poverty, according to the President of the European Federation of Food Banks.

Food donation is a key lever in Europe’s solutions both to reduce food waste and alleviate food poverty and social exclusion.

This is the core mission of food banks, which also raise the awareness of food businesses, public authorities and civil society. In addition, a harmonised European approach would both facilitate the access to food sources and offer significant benefits for the abovementioned stakeholders in terms of resource efficiency and food security, as well as economic gains for business operators. Recommendations for harmonisation include:

  • Further clarification of EU and Member States food legislation (e.g. use of “best before” dates), food hygiene and VAT base.
  • Tax or financial incentives to help ensure donating surplus food does not cost more than disposing of it for other uses.
  • Industry-charity donation guides which clarify liability and encourage businesses to embed redistribution mechanisms in their supply chain processes.
  • Financial support for Food Banks to increase their operating capacity and cover fresh products transformation or transport costs.

Tackling such a variety of issues, and in certain cases shortcomings, as well as defining new opportunities to help ensure that safe, surplus food is made available to people in need requires active collaboration amongst all players, as for instance through the Stakeholder Working Group on Food Losses and Waste chaired by DG Health and Food Safety (SANTE).

For more information about food safety on the ec.europa.eu website

For more information about food waste on the same website

Insects as food and feed

Interest is growing in the potential benefits of using insects in food and animal feed, but there needs to be an assessment of the risks involved in the production, processing and consumption of this alternative source of protein.

The European Food Safety Authority has produced a risk profile that identifies the potential biological and chemical hazards and well as allergenicity and environmental hazards associated with the use of farmed insects as food and feed.

For more information, click here on www.efsa.europa.eu

Food fraud

With food fraud, the violations are mostly related to non-compliance with labelling rules, falsified certification and/or documents and ingredient substitutions. These are the main conclusions of the Food Fraud Network Activity Report, which follows up on 60 cases notified through the Network in 2014. The Commission will be equipping the Network with a dedicated IT tool to facilitate the handling of cases.

For more information, click here on http://ec.europa.eu

WHO helps reduce the marketing to children of foods

Unhealthy diets are a leading factor affecting health and well-being in every European country, with rising overweight and obesity among children of particular concern as it affects up to 27% of 13-year-olds and 33% of 11-year-olds. The leading categories of advertised foods are soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, biscuits, confectionery, snack foods, ready meals and fast food. Brand recognition starts in early childhood and children who recognize multiple brands by the age of 4 years are more likely to eat unhealthily and be overweight.

Research has demonstrated that overweight children in particular respond to the presence of branded food packaging by increasing their consumption. Marketing of foods high in energy, fats, sugars or salt has a documented harmful impact on children as it promotes the development of unhealthy food preferences and diets, and childhood obesity, thus contributing to the later development of diet-related non-communicable diseases. Yet across Europe, children are still regularly exposed to marketing that promotes foods and drinks high in energy, saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars or salt.

Despite progress in some countries, it can be difficult for governments to identify foods whose marketing should be restricted, so WHO has developed a nutrient profile model for countries to adapt and use to classify foods according to their nutritional composition. Policy-makers across the Region will be able to use this tool to determine whether or not a food product should be marketed to children. The WHO model is largely based on the Danish and Norwegian models, which are used to restrict food marketing to children and countries can either use the model as it is, or adapt it to their own cultural circumstances. It can be used in two ways:

  • to identify foods not to be marketed to children
  • to monitor the extent and nature of food marketing.

For more information on the WHO nutrient profile model, click here   on www.euro.who.int

For more information on the European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015-2020, click here on www.euro.who.int