The results of a 2-year project co-ordinated by the University of Crete and paid for by the EU’s Directorate General for Health & Consumer Protection have recently been reported (see http://eurodiet.med.uoc.gr) The experts were given carte blanche to tell us what and how much they thought we should eat and what the dietary goals for EU consumers should be – the “euro diet”. Their recommendations will feed into the French Presidency this autumn and may yet end up as EU policies.

The aims of the project were, “To enable a co-ordinated EU and member state health promotion programme on nutrition, diet and healthy lifestyles by establishing a network, strategy and action plan for the development of European dietary guidelines, which will provide a framework for the development by member states of national food-based dietary targets”.

Leading scientists from the member states and eastern European countries, and policy advisers and representatives from national and European agencies and NGOs made their contribution to the project. There was also input from representatives from the food chain industry and from educational, medical, social and consumer organisations.

The four inter-linked components examined in the project were;

  1. Health & Nutrients : The Role of Diet and Lifestyles in Health and Disease Patterns in Europe.
  2. Nutrients & Foods : A Framework for Food-Based Dietary Guidelines in the European Union.
  3. Foods & People : Towards a Public Health Nutrition Strategy in the European Union to implement FBDGs and to Enhance Healthier Lifestyles.
  4. People and Policies : Policy, Trade, Economic and Technological Aspects of Improving Nutrient Intake & Lifestyles in the European

The conclusions and recommendations that were produced as a result for this project ran to four volumes. The last of these volumes included a long list of suggestions for further action by the EU. Some of these suggestions included;

  • The improvement of diet and lifestyles should have a high priority in the forthcoming public health strategy for the European Union.
  • All EU policies should undergo a more systematic process of health impact assessment in relation to their impact on diets and lifestyles
  • A new Nutrition Committee for the EU, should be created to give nutritional issues a higher profile in the EU.
  • The European Commission should not be involved in the direct delivery of dietary advice to the public.
  • The European Commission should revise its Recommended Daily Allowances for vitamins and minerals using a systematic, evidence-based approach.
  • The EU should ear-mark funds for large, multi-centre studies into nutrition, diet and lifestyles with a duration of up to 10 years.
  • The EU should agree rules for the use of nutrition claims along the lines agreed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
  • The European Commission should review the 1990 Nutrition Labelling Directive particularly with a view to making nutrition labelling more comprehensible and it should encourage the development of other ways of providing consumers with information about the nutrient content of foods though, for example, the Internet.
  • The European Commission should review the Novel Food Regulations, particularly with a view to ensuring that the nutritional consequences of consuming novel foods are better assessed and to making approval procedures more efficient.
  • EU rules on food fortification and on food supplements should be harmonised but in such a way that the interests of consumers are paramount.
  • Given that there are subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy designed to increase consumption of surplus food, these should be directed towards promoting the consumption of foods for which there is strong evidence of a need for increased consumption in the EU for health reasons.

The last point, about the possible impact of CAP-sourced funds on nutrition, reminds me of the analysis I made many years ago. The CAP’s effect on food prices was to raise the price of sugar, milk and dairy products, beef, etc. That’s the way the agricultural policy works. These products are, of course, often deemed to be unhealthy by nutritionists. The CAP was, in other words, encouraging healthy eating by keeping the prices of these products artificially high. Ironically, that isn’t the way farm policy is likely to stay. The pressure for reform of the CAP and the focus on reducing support prices means that the EU’s consumers will have more access to these foods in the future.

That point aside, it’s clear that the EU is likely to put nutrition policy much higher on its agenda in the future. Checking out what we eat will become another thing for Brussels to deliberate upon – and the “euro diet” is something the food industry should be aware of in its forward planning.