By Dr Graziella Cricchiola – Junior Associate
During this ongoing pandemic, many people are at home for a long period, with a stockpile of food hid away in the fridge. It is only natural that during these hard times, people tend to struggle with emotional or stress-eating.
It is only natural that many people would then start increasing in weight.
Many products may offer a desirable solution for the overeater, for they purport to help one lose weight. But not all products are all alike – some may be good and beneficial, but others may actually be harmful. The question is: are there any standards which slimming products need to adhere to?
The short answer is, yes, there are.
The general rules applicable to consumables are also applicable to slimming products. Such standards are mainly established in order to ensure a high level of consumer protection, by giving the consumer the necessary information to make choices in full knowledge of the facts, as well as creating equal conditions of competition for the food industry.
Generally, the slimming products packaging would usually include a food packaging claim. These claims include health claims, nutrient content claims and function claims. Most common food packaging claims on slimming products include claims such as ‘fat-free’, ‘calorie-free’ and ‘high fiber’ or ‘excellent source of fiber’. There are many buzzwords used, and one must be careful.
It is of utmost importance that claims on food products are understood by the ordinary consumer. In fact, when marketing their slimming products, producers as well as marketers are legally bound take into account the laws and regulations relating to weight-loss and other claims of this nature, which directly result in an effect on one’s health.
The European Union provides for rules in this respect.
Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 defines a health claim as: “any claim that states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between a food category, a food or one of its constituents and health”. This Regulation further defines a nutrition claims as: “any claim which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular beneficial nutritional properties due to:
(a) the energy (calorific value) it
(ii) provides at a reduced or increased rate; or
(iii) does not provide; and/or
(b) the nutrients or other substances it
(ii) contains in reduced or increased proportions; or
(iii) does not contain.”
It is law that a nutrition or a health claim should not be made if it is inconsistent with generally accepted nutrition and health principles. Neither shall it be made if it encourages or condones excessive consumption of any food or if such claim discourages behaviour against good dietary practices.
Given the probable effect such slimming products may have on nutritional regime of the consumer, correct and sincere nutritional labelling on slimming products is imperative.
The labelling of slimming products shall include the available energy value, the content of proteins, carbohydrates and fat, the average quantity of each mineral and each vitamin, instructions for appropriate preparation, when necessary, and a statement as to the importance of following those instructions, and a statement on the importance of maintaining an adequate daily fluid intake.
However, it is worth mentioning that the labelling of slimming products shall not make any reference to the rate or amount of weight loss which may result from their use or to a reduction in the sense of hunger.
But what exactly is a health claim?
The European Union established a register which includes health-claims and the conditions applying to them. In simple terms, health claims maybe categorized in different groups:
(1) Claims referring to the role of a nutrient or other substance in growth, development and functions of the body. For example: “calcium is needed for the maintenance of normal bones”,
(2) Claims referring to psychological and behavioural functions. For example: “helps improve concentration”,
(3) Claims referring to slimming or weight control or a reduction in the sense of hunger or an increase in the sense of satiety or to the reduction of the available energy from the diet. For example: “keeps you feeling fuller for longer”,
(4) Claims about general, non-specific benefits of the nutrient or food for overall good health. For example: “good for you” or “healthy”,
(5) Claims referring to children’s development and health,
(6) Claims that state, suggest or imply that the consumption of a food significantly reduces a risk factor in the development of a human disease
(7) Prohibited claims.
Additionally nutrition claims are also included in the said register set up by the European Union. These claims usually includes statements such as ‘Low Fat’,‘Fat-Free’, ‘Low Sugars’ and ‘With No Added Sugars’.
For a nutrition claim to be used, the products must meet the specific conditions set out in the aforementioned European Union Regulation. As an example, for a product to claim that a food is low in fat, the product must contain no more than 3 g of fat per 100 g for solids or 1,5 g of fat per 100 ml for liquids (1,8 g of fat per 100 ml for semi-skimmed milk).
The reason behind these strict requirements is self-evident.
A food business operator making a nutrition or health claim must justify the use of the claim. In fact the competent authorities may request a food business operator or a person placing a product on the market to produce all relevant elements and data establishing compliance with this Regulation. Ultimately, it is an offence for a trader to deceive consumers through false claims. Leaving out important information when promoting products or services is also considered a misleading commercial practice, because consumers need information to make informed choices.
In Malta, all of the European Union Regulations have been transposed by means of the appropriate Subsidiary Legislation under the Food Safety Act – Chapter 449 of the Laws of Malta.
Any person found guilty of any offence against these standards shall be liable to a fine of not less than four hundred and sixty-five euro and eighty-seven cents (€465.87) and not exceeding four thousand and six hundred and fifty-eight euro and seventy-five cents (€4,658.75) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
On conviction for a subsequent offence, a person found guilty shall be liable to a fine of not less than one thousand and one hundred and sixty-four euro and sixty-nine cents (€1,164.69) and not exceeding eleven thousand and six hundred and forty-six euro and eighty-seven cents (€11,646.87) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
Disclaimer: This article is not to be considered as legal advice, and is not to be acted on as such. Should you require further information or legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.