Choices healthy food symbol set for scientific review

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Netherlands

The evaluating criteria for the Choices healthy food symbol are to
be reviewed and potentially adjusted, following the establishment
of a new international scientific committee.

The Choices Programme was set up by industry members in 2006 in an effort to establish a consistent, easy to identify nutrient profiling system.

This allows products that meet the programme's qualifying nutrient criteria to carry the Choices Symbol.

The qualifying criteria are designed to be reviewed every two years, in order to take into consideration any new scientific insights, new technological developments or new market environments.

"We try to ensure that the criteria are challenging but feasible," Jup van 't Veld, secretary of Choices International, told

The Choices Programme was first set up in the Netherlands in 2006.

The following year, the founding industry members - Campina, Freisland Foods and Unilever - established the Choices International Foundation, in order to be able to take the scheme to the international market.

The criteria currently used by the scheme were developed by two independent scientific committees in The Netherlands and Belgium, and are based on WHO guidelines for saturated fat, trans fatty acids, sodium and added sugar.

National dietary guidelines from 21 different countries were also compared when developing the criteria.

The programme's new International Scientific Committee was formally set up this year in order to "broaden the scientific basis and strengthen the scientific argument."

This, hopes Choices, will make the scheme more applicable around the world.

International Scientific Committee

The new scientific committee, which held its first meeting at the end of February, is made up of the following members: - Professor Jaap Seidell (chairman), VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands - Professor Harvey Anderson, University of Toronto, Canada - Professor Arne Astrup, Royal Veterinary & Agricultural University, Denmark - Professor Gülden Pekcan, Hacettepe University, Turkey - Professor Barry Popkin, University of North Carolina, USA - Professor Hildegard Przyrembel, Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, Germany - Doctor Nelia Steyn, South African Medical Research Council, South Africa - Professor Linda Tapsell, University of Wollongong, Australia - Professor Greet Vansant, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium - Professor Maria Daniel Vaz de Almeida, University of Porto, Portugal "Because Choices gives full responsibility and independence to the Scientific Committee, leading nutrition experts we approached gladly accepted the invitation to be on the committee," said Professor Jaap Seidell, chairman of the Choices International Scientific Committee.

Criteria review The committee will review the Choices qualifying criteria over the next few months, with particular attention to a " number of specific issues" that were identified.

The review should be complete by the end of the summer this year, after which the criteria for using the stamp may be adjusted.

While this ensures any products carrying the stamp keep up to date with the latest and most relevant international nutrient guidelines, it also means that some products currently using the stamp may no longer qualify to use it after the review.

However, in such cases, companies are given a two-year adjustment period, in order to allow for them to either reformulate their products or to remove the symbol from their packaging.

Symbol use According to Jup van 't Veld, the Choices symbol is used on around 1,700 products, mainly on packaged goods but also to flag up some fresh items (vegetables, bread), or at foodservice level.

Most of the products currently using the symbol are in The Netherlands, although the scheme is also being used in some other European countries (Beligium), in some Latin American countries (Brazil, Chile), and in the US (but currently only by founding member Unilever).

Food companies in Poland, Germany, Portugal and South Africa are expected to start using the stamp in the next few months.

By the end of this year, Choices aims to have local foundations and partners in around 10 countries.

Logistics Choices Programme aims to set up national foundations in every country where its stamp is to be used.

Food companies wishing to apply for the voluntary scheme will then need to approach their local foundation, and pay the annual foundation fee.

This is usually based on the company's annual turnover, in order to allow flexibility for large and small companies alike to use the symbol.

Other fees to be incurred are certification fees.

Each product that wishes to carry the symbol must be sent to a certifying agent, and a fee of around €50-70 paid for each product evaluation.

A number of different labelling schemes have already been devised by industry and retailers across Europe and the world.

According to Jup van 't Veld, the Choices organisation would like to avoid a scenario of packaging confusion as much as possible.

It therefore aims to promote its scheme as a comprehensive, credible, reliable and science-based programme that is applicable the world over.

On the other hand, however, the founding companies do see scope for a complementary approach with some other schemes - particularly those that are text-based, such as the CIAA guidance daily amount (GDA) scheme.

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