EU rules on nutrition labelling and on the health claims food companies can put on their products benefit the industry, the European Commission has claimed.

Paola Testori Coggi, director general of the Commission’s agency focusing on health and consumers, acknowledged the regualtions, adopted in the last year, were “strict” but gave the sector “a stable and level playing field”.

Speaking to an industry conference in Brussels, Testori Coggi insisted the laws provided the food sector with a “reliable and predictable environment” to operate and support its innovation.

“It is clear: all EU policies aim to encourage a strong environment for the European food industry,” she told the summit, organised by industry association FoodDrinkEurope.

Testori Coggi said the EU’s food information regulation, which focused on the data on labels, including nutrition and country-of-origin information, gave consumers “clear and more visible labels”. She added: “I hope it sets the scene for the next 20 years, maybe more.”

However, during the first day of the two-day conference, there was some concern expressed about EU regulations, including its laws on the health claims companies can market.

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General Mills warned food manufacturers operating in the EU could shift their R&D facilities outside the bloc. Tate & Lyle called for a “more appropriate balance” to be struck on regulation to help foster innovation. Meanwhile, a US government official said EU regulations could stifle innovation, arguing the region could become a “museum of brands”.

In May, The Commission, after six years of work, has published a list of 222 health claims that can be made on food labels and advertising when products are sold in the EU. However, the Commission also rejected around 1,600 claims, which will be outlawed from December.

Testori Coggi acknowledged EU health claims were “very strict” but added: “This gives clarity and establishes a level playing field and great rewards for the genuine innovation that are able to get their claims authorised.”

She said the food industry could “provide answers” to the “great societal challenges” of obesity and an ageing population.

“You are an important economic sector but you are important because you touch the daily lives of each citizen, you provide jobs and you have a strong impact on the health of citizens and the environment,” she said.

“We in the European Commission recognise your contribution and future potential. We share your desire to succeed and believe our legislative framework and policies can help you achieve the objectives that we all want to reach.”