International Food Information Council Foundation’s Global Diet and Physical Activity Communications Summit, New York

19 septembre 2011

Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle

Speaking Notes: Video address

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to address this summit on diet and physical activity and I would like to thank IFIC for the kind invitation. With WHO statistics showing that at least 2.8 million global deaths are directly attributable to overweight and obesity – as well as the significant socio-economic and human impact of the associated morbidity – the collective challenge we face is of the utmost importance for both developed and developing nations alike.

The European Food Safety Authority was established in 2002 as the European independent risk assessment body in direct response to the food crises of the previous decade.

EFSA is mandated to provide the scientific evidence base that enables appropriate measures to be taken to protect public health and the environment and to communicate on risk to a wide range of target audiences including the general public. Our founding legislation emphasises the core values that underpin our work: independence in the provision of scientific advice, transparency, responsiveness, and excellence in our science. EFSA has a broad remit, covering the entire food chain. While food safety was the primary impetus for the establishment of EFSA, the increasing burden of nutrition-related diseases has had a significant impact on the evolution of our work programme.

EFSA supports policy makers at European and national levels in developing policies and setting diet-related public health targets. For example, the European Commission has asked EFSA to set dietary reference values (DRVs) for nutrient intakes. DRVs provide an important evidence base to underpin nutrition policies, establish dietary targets and develop consumer information programmes on healthy diets.

They will be used as a basis for reference values in food labelling and for establishing food-based dietary guidelines that translate nutritional recommendations into messages on healthy dietary choices. To date, we have published opinions on DRVs for fats, carbohydrates, dietary fibre and water. A public consultation on the draft opinion on DRVs for protein is currently underway with a deadline for comments of October 7 and work on energy and micronutrients is ongoing. All of our work in this area is subject to extensive consultation with Member States, the scientific community, and other stakeholders.

Before effective nutrition policies can be established, it is important to understand what people are eating and, here, EFSA has also an important role to play. With the support of Member States, we have developed a number of pan-European food consumption databases and we are currently piloting a project called “the EU Menu” to harmonise food consumption data collection across Europe.

In addition, in the framework of the European Health Claims Regulation, EFSA has been mandated to evaluate whether nutrition and health claims for foods are supported by sound science.

The Regulation was introduced to ensure that consumers are not misled and to provide market operators with a level playing field. It lays down harmonised EU-wide rules for the use of health or nutrition claims on foods with the key objective of ensuring that any claim made on a food label in the EU is clear and substantiated by scientific evidence. It is the first piece of European legislation specifically dealing with nutrition and health claims and the first that allows business operators to refer to diseases when advertising foods. In July of this year, EFSA published the final series of evaluations of so-called “functional” health claims, the culmination of more than three years’ work by EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies which since 2008 has assessed almost 3,000 food-related general function health claims. This work will enable the European Commission to draw up a list of permitted claims by the end of the year.

Communicating effectively on the relationship between diet and health is a critical component in changing the behaviour that leads to diet-related diseases. Eurobarometer surveys – the tool by which we measure public opinion in the EU – have shown that lack of information and/or contradictory information are a barrier to healthy eating.

To reach the diverse population of 500 million EU citizens is challenging; this is why we work closely with the national agencies in Member States, ensuring that Europe’s consumers receive factual, science-based information on which to base their dietary choices.

In conclusion, I believe that EFSA’s unbiased scientific advice, its engagement of the key players in the food chain, and its investment in risk communication will be instrumental in Europe’s fight against nutrition-related diseases.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Published: 20 September 2011