BRUSSELS – The canteen inside the European parliament still offers fatty products despite of the European Union’s effort to regulate and reduce obesity all over the countries under the EU umbrella.
By Maram Aboueita
Based on my investigations, the European Parliament’s canteen offers obesity products such as white bread and sweet cakes which contradicts the anti obesity policy.
In addition, not all of the sandwiches are labeled with the ingredients and calories.
Anti Obesity Policy
The white paper seeks to give the power to the EU to regulate what Europeans buy and eat.
In fact, the anti obesity policy proposed by the EU encompasses six priority areas which are better informed consumers through labeling the food stuff, provide healthy and low fat food, encourage physical activity, develop the evidence base to support policy making, and prioritizing children and low socio-economic groups.
EP Canteen Menu
The European Parliament’s canteen menu includes chips, soda products, white bread, and sweet cakes and tarts.
“No real anti obesity policy applied in the canteen in the European Parliament”, Corinna Zerger, the advisor on Food Safety and Quality, says.
In fact, the canteen offers both healthy and unhealthy products, and gives people the choice. However, this is not enough to regulate obesity, based on Corinna Zerger.
Although it always offers the healthy option, still this is not enough to the European Parliament who exert efforts to reduce obesity among Europe. Some people would think that the EU could not regulate obesity among its workers, how come it will reduce obesity among all countries under the EU umbrella.
In addition, the European Union rules and regulations should be first applied inside the European parliament and commission, before its being applied in countries under the umbrella of the European Union.
In the European Parliament, a lot of discussions took place around what the canteen should offer such as organic or low calorie food, according to Corinna Zerger.
Obesity is increasing at an alarming pace in Europe
Obesity is one of the major public health challenges of the 21st century. Its prevalence has tripled in many countries of the European region, particularly among children, since 1980s, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The EU Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity-related Health Issues takes an integrated approach, involving stakeholders at local, regional and national level. Member States have the main responsibility for their health policy.
However, coordination at EU level brings clear added value. That is why, as part of the Strategy, the European Commission and the EU member States are working together and have developed action in Priority areas which are better informed consumers, making the healthy option available, encouraging physical activity, and developing the evidence base to support policy making.
According to Philippe Roux, Health and Consumers Directorate General in the European commission, the High level Group on Physical Activity, chaired by the European Commission, for example, shares policy ideas and best practices across the EU and steers common initiatives such as the EU salt reduction framework. Another example is the EU School Fruit scheme which combines the distribution of free fruit and vegetables at schools with awareness raising campaigns for students and teachers.
A final example is the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, established in 2005. This Platform is an example of action-oriented cooperation to help reverse the obesity trend. The Members, which include European-level umbrella organizations ranging from the food industry, health organizations and NGOs, have so far delivered close to 300 commitments for action – for example on consumer information/labeling, responsible advertising and product reformulation (i.e. reducing or eliminating salt, sugar and trans-fats).
Labeling is not enough
According to Corinna Zerger, labeling on processed food packaging is a very good idea to inform people, at least the ones who want to know, of the calories and ingredients that are included in the food, but still it is not strict enough to reduce obesity. However, it should go further and stricter such as Denmark’s fat tax.
Denmark has introduced the world’s first fat tax which is a charge on highly fat saturated food such as butter, milk, and cheese. It made unhealthy food expensive for people in order to discourage buying it.
Based on Corinna Zerger, Denmark’s fat tax is an example of a strict method to reduce obesity, even though it is not more than a smart way to raise money for the Danish government. In fact, it would not affect consumers’ behaviors.
It is a good way to apply this fat tax policy inside the European parliament in order to be the role model for the European region, according to Corinna Zerger.
An action should be taken
The European parliament could take an action towards what the canteen offers in terms of obesity products. For instance, it could offer healthy and low fat products and change some recipes in order to reduce calories, according to Corinna Zerger. The European parliament is considered Europe’s role model. Therefore, it should strictly apply anti obesity policy.
Based on the present legislation, it is compulsory to list all the ingredients contained in a food product, including water and additives, appearing in descending order of weight. Each constituent of a compound ingredient must also be listed, unless the constituent has already been listed as an ingredient in its own right, or is present below certain quantities provided it is not a potential allergen.
Labeling on processed food packaging is very important. It empowers consumers by providing them with the necessary information to make informed choices about the foods they buy.
The updated legislation adopted this summer introduces, among other measures, a minimum font size to make the information easier to read and mandatory nutrition information to help consumers choose foods that meet their personal preferences or dietary requirements. Certain important nutritional characteristics of processed foods – energy (calories), fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt – will become compulsory on packaging. This information is vital for people who want to make healthy food choices for themselves and their families.
Food manufacturers are included as Members of the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Our approach is to work together to encourage companies to behave responsibly and ethically. Food reformulation is a priority for action both with Member States and the Platform for action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health: the key objective is making the healthy choice the easy one. So far we have seen some good results from this approach. For example, since the end of 2007, 8 major retailers operating in the UK eliminated hydrogenated vegetable oils from their own-brand food ranges, 905 products have improved between 2005 and 2010 and many fast food restaurants have introduced fresh fruits and salads. We continue to encourage responsible marketing by the food industry.