Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Caroline Flint MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health, Department of Health to the Chairman

  I am writing to report progress of the negotiations on this proposal. The Committee was informed on 17 February of the adoption of the Council's Common Position text at the Health Council in December 2005 and this allowed the European Parliament to commence its second reading of the proposal in January of this year.

  A series of trialogue meetings is currently taking place involving the Council (represented by the Austrian Presidency), the Parliament's rapporteurs and the Commission. It is possible that the plenary session of the European Parliament in the week commencing 15 May will adopt amendments amenable to Council, which could lead to a second reading deal.

  The Committee was concerned during the first reading about the proportionality of this proposal, and this has been one of the key UK objectives in this negotiation. The European Parliament has also been pressing for amendments which would minimise the burdens on business. There are three principal issues still at stake:

    —    Nutrient profiles—this is where a claim (for example of vitamin or mineral content) would be restricted on a food not meeting a profile to be established by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The Council agreed the appropriate control would be to prohibit the claim. This was unacceptable to the European Parliament. A compromise has been suggested by the Parliament where, if only one nutrient did not meet the profile (eg high fat content), the claim would not be prohibited but information about the nutrient would be highlighted so the consumer was not misled about the nutritional content of the food. This would be acceptable to the UK provided there were clear practical safeguards to avoid misleading the consumer.

    —    Authorisation of new health claims—this qoncerns the process to apply to new health claims not eligible for the lighter generally accepted claims list (described in the explanatory memoranda submitted on this proposal). The concern here was about the effect on industry innovation of a lengthy approvals process and the European Parliament has proposed a compromise that sets strict time limits. This could be acceptable to Council. Whilst this would improve the Council's Common Position, the UK has argued for a provisional authorisation approach pending a fuller assessment by EFSA.

    —    Trade marks—this is about how to control claims that have been registered as a trade mark. A difference of opinion remains between the Council and European Parliament. The Parliament may back down from its proposed exemption for these claims, to acceptance of the Council's suggested solution but with a longer transition period than the 10 years offered. Indeed, longer transition periods overall are a likely outcome of the current discussions.

  A second reading deal would allow formal adoption of the Regulation, with entry into force some six months later. This is unlikely at the June Health Council, but may be finalised by September or October. The Regulation will be directly applicable in the UK, but statutory instruments in England and each of the devolved administrations would be required to set penalties for offences. I will write again to provide a further update of the position.

4 May 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Caroline Flint MP

  Thank you for your letter which was considered by Sub-Committee G on 18 May.

  We note what you say about the progress towards a Second Reading deal. As you know, this document has already been cleared from scrutiny but we are grateful to you for promising to report further developments.

19 May 2006

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