By Stephen Pugh Leader of Food Information for UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Currently sports foods are covered under the Regulation of foods for particular nutritional uses (PARNUTS). The PARNUTS legislation is being replaced with a new framework of “Foods for Special Groups”. In this new regulation there are specific rules covering foods for infants and small children. The rules also cover foods for medical purposes and for weight loss. However, the new framework does not give specific rules around sports foods, although the EU Commission has powers to decide if specific rules are appropriate for foods aimed at sportsmen/people doing any kind of sport related activity. Sports foods in this case are defined as “foods intended to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort, especially for sportsmen”. If there are no rules in the Foods for Special Groups Regulation, then sports foods would be treated as “normal” foods and have to comply with general food labelling regulations and nutrition and health claims regulations.
If sports foods are to be covered in general labelling, the requirements are both simpler – there are no specific requirements – and more complex – the onus being on the producer to defend any claims or to seek authorisation of their claims. The general requirement in food labelling is that you mustn’t mislead the consumer either through the information on the packaging, through imaging on the packaging or through the overall marketing or advertising of the food. And that you have to sell safe food. Anyone making sports foods needs to check that information on the food label isn’t misleading and is safe to use the foods in the way it is suggested in the labelling.
Generally sports foods have been sold either in order to increase muscle growth, performance, or replace lost fluids and nutrients. These all suggest that there is some benefit in eating the food and are considered to be either a nutrition or a health claim. Labelling would have to conform to the claims regulation. There are health claims about muscle growth, maintenance of muscle mass, maintenance of muscle function, recovery of normal muscle function after intensive exercise, and nutrition claims for vitamin and mineral content. Such claims have specific conditions of use and you will need to ensure that any claims you make are consistent with the authorised claims. If you are selling meal replacement foods, such as protein shakes, you need to ensure that your meal replacement is safe and that you are giving adequate nutrition to the consumer. Moreover, if you are describing them as such for weight control, you must comply with specific conditions of use of one of two authorised health claims. In both of these areas you would need to consult with the relevant experts. So if you are selling meal replacement duet replacement products you need to ensure that the nutrition provision in the product is enough to replace foods normally found in the diet.
If you are selling a sports supplement, then you need to conform to the specific requirements of the supplements regulation. Meal replacement products are by definition a part of the normal diet, not a supplement to it and so would not fulfil the definition of a food supplement and cannot be sold as such.
For more information, please get in touch with Gillian Waddell at Fuel PR (Gillian@fuelrefuel.com).