It will aim to establish “a science-based cut-off value for daily exposure to added sugars from all sources which is not associated with adverse health effects”.
Added sugars include sucrose, fructose, glucose, starch hydrolysates such as glucose syrup, high-fructose syrup, and other sugar preparations consumed as such or added during food preparation and manufacturing, it said.
The mandate for an opinion was requested by the five Nordic countries last year, signed by the director generals of the Swedish National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket), the Finnish Food Safety Authority (EVIRA), Denmark’s National Food Institute (DTU), the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM) and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).
Irene Mattisson, senior risk assessor at Livsmedelsverket welcomed the announcement. “A maximum value for how much added sugar is acceptable in the diet and which applies throughout the EU would be a strength. Therefore, we are very pleased that EFSA listened to our wishes.”
A 2010 EFSA opinion gave reference values for the intake of total carbohydrates and dietary fibre but fell short of giving values for added sugars (citing insufficient evidence), although it did state that a high intake of sugars as sugar-sweetened beverages may contribute to weight gain.
“New scientific evidence has come to light since then [and] there has also been growing public interest in the impact of the consumption of sugar-containing foods and beverages on human health,” said the Parma-based authority.
The authority will now gather experts in the fields of dietary exposure, epidemiology, human nutrition, diet-related chronic diseases and dentistry to form an ad-hoc working group.
Engaging with stakeholders
EFSA said it intends to engage with stakeholders throughout the assessment process, holding two public consultations, including one face-to-face meeting. It will ask for feedback on the draft protocol in the first half of 2018 and on the draft opinion in late 2019.
Nutritionist and Researcher at campaign group Action on Sugar Kawther Hashem said the mandate was needed so EFSA can scientifically evaluate the links between added sugar and health at a European level.
A Nestlé spokesperson told us: “We share public concerns about the health risks associated with excess free sugars in food and beverage products. We support and are guided by the recommendation made by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the intake of free sugars should be less than 10% of total energy intake in both adults and children. We welcome more scientific research on the health benefits of further reducing free sugars to no more than 5% of energy as additionally suggested by WHO."
Florence Ranson, spokesperson for industry group FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) said it was looking forward to the consultation process and to sharing information on product formulation.
”We favour a science-based approach, which takes into account all aspects of a diet,” added Ranson. “Sugars, like any other nutrient or food, can be enjoyed as part of a varied and balanced diet, when consumed in moderation and according to a person’s individual physical or physiological needs.”