EU low-cal diet industry "could fold" if rules rubber stamped, warns trade body

The European Commission has asked EFSA for help on how best to regulate such low-calorie diets across the EU. ©iStock/hannahgleg

New rules on low calorie diets could wipe out manufacturers and distributors of weight loss programmes in Europe, according to an industry trade body which is urging regulators to seek a compromise agreement.

Low calorie diets (LCD:800-1200 calories a day) and very low calorie diets (VLCD:400-800 calories a day) are niche and are often prescribed by healthcare professionals to patients suffering from clinical obesity.

They contain regular food ingredients, such as vegetables, soya, milk, fat and pasta in dried form.

Amid growing levels of obesity, and the financial strain on healthcare providers of meeting this challenge, the European Commission called on the European Foods Standards Agency (EFSA) to produce a report to help it decide on how best to regulate such low-calorie diets across the EU. Regulators thought the previous guidance had become outdated.

While the EFSA report was welcomed by the pan European group, Specialised Nutrition European (SNE), saying it could help "tackle the societal challenges of obesity," the VLCD industry group- whose LCD and VLCD members operate across Europe-has warned the new legislation could prove disastrous for its members and consumers.

Essential that rules are looked at again

Speaking to NuraIngredients, professor Anthony Leeds, medical director of the VLCD Industry Group, said the VLCD industry "could fold" and it was "essential that these rules are looked at again and that a compromise is reached in order to ensure the continued existence of these vital products."

“This proposed new legislation is going to have catastrophic effects on ordinary consumers simply wanting to manage their weight loss,” Dr Leeds told us.

Despite the plea, time is running out, as the proposals are set to be rubber stamped by the European parliament in the coming months, thus becoming law.

Should the VLCD Industry Group’s dire prediction come true then the fortunes of leading companies in this field such as Nestlé, Cambridge Weight Plan and Lightlife, could take a tumble.

The VLCD Industry Group’s argument is centred on new rules on composition which it argues would make diets "very difficult to manufacture" and would "taste unpleasant, have an unappealing texture, go off quite quickly and be much more expensive for consumers."

Protein levels too high

For example, Dr Leeds points to new rules demanding that diet replacement regimes should contain a minimum of 75 grams (g) of protein, compared to previous demands of 50g.

“The evidence that you need these higher amounts of protein is not that strong,” he told us.

The trade body is also unhappy about new demands on levels of essential fatty acids (11g for linoleic acids and 1.4g for alpha linoleic) and says overall the new demands will lead to "a sharp increase in production costs."

A further point of contention, according to Dr Leeds, is that the original EFSA document was not put out for consultation before being submitted to the European Commission.

The VLCD Industry Group is now calling on MEPs to reject the proposals and has put forward a compromise agreement, which would include a 60g minimum level of protein and a 6g minimum level of linoleic acids and 0.7g minimum level of alpha linoleic.

It argues the compromise agreement would provide "high consumer protection" whilst "addressing manufacturers’ food technological problems."

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