The Whitehouse Consultancy

By Elias Papadopoulos, Political Consultant

You might be forgiven for thinking that a discussion on caffeine health claims has a strong sense of deja vu. Truth is, they were under discussion throughout most of last year, were rejected by the European Parliament over the summer and are now back under discussion in what by now resembles a quest to square the circle.

The science was there: EFSA had delivered a safety assessment, dosage limits and proposed and conditions of use. Consumer information was there as well: the legislation authorising the claims was drafted mandating that they cannot be used for foods targeting children and including accompanying warning statements. But the politics was not there, with public health concerns resulting in the claims being rejected by MEPs.

Parliamentarians were particularly concerned that, should energy drinks (not only high in caffeine, but also sugar) be allowed to make health claims, this would result in increased consumption by adolescents, who are the key consumers of energy drinks.

This illustrates not only the challenges of what often looks like an impossible triangle (to borrow from economics), but also of the difficulties in legislating for issues as complex as public health. In this case, legislation was limited to caffeine, yet it was rejected largely due to its unintended consequences of inadvertently promoting sugar consumption. The rejection, in turn, has the unintended consequence of affecting a whole range of caffeine-containing products that are not energy drinks.

This example serves to show that stakeholders and policy makers should broaden their thinking when considering regulation. Although legislating is limited to the specific issue it needs to address, it will increasingly need to consider repercussions beyond its original scope and be prepared to come up with solutions to mitigate unintended consequences. Expert advice and multilateral coalition building will be more and more important.

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