According to the WHO, nutrient profiling is “the science of classifying or ranking foods according to their nutritional composition for reasons related to preventing disease and promoting health”.

Nutrient profiles allow processed foods to be classified in accordance with their sugar, salt and fat content. Nutrient profiles form the backbone of various health interventions, including traffic-light labelling, restrictions on marketing to children, ensuring fair health claims, introducing financial incentives to discourage unhealthy foods (e.g. fat taxes) and promoting health-compatible food provision in public institutions (e.g. schools).

A number of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, United States, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the UK have already developed nutrient profiles. The recent publication of a WHO nutrient profile model marks an important step towards facilitating nutrient profiling at European level.

Despite a legal obligation to have nutrient profiles established back in January 2009, [1] their adoption by the European Commission is now more than six years overdue. Several MEPs posed questions asking when the profiles will finally be adopted. [2] The Commission’s answer is sobering: “At this stage, the Commission is not in a position to provide a definitive timeframe regarding their adoption and is assessing the best possible way forward … within its wider health policy and in view of the Commission’s policies in terms of better regulation.”

At the same time, the recent ENVI Committee contribution to the Commission’s 2016 work plan “calls on the Commission to review the scientific basis of the concept of nutrient profiles ... and, if appropriate, to submit a legislative proposal”.

Given that voices to eliminate the whole concept of nutrient profiling are also stirring, see the proposed amendments to REFIT [3] and a recent Parliamentary question, a battle around the scientific nature of nutrient profiles may just be around the corner.


[1] Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006, Article 4(1)

[2] Bart States (Greens/EFA), Lynn Boylan (GUE/NGL)

[3] Amendments 189 and 223 by Axel Voss (EPP) and Angelika Niebler (EPP).

Last modified on June 28 2015.