The Sixth National Meeting-Seminar, organized by the Ministry of Health and the National Center for Public Health and Analysis (NCPHA), with academics and industry organizations, reported on progress in food reform to reduce added sugars, activities from the National Program for Prevention of Chronic Noncommunicable Diseases.
According to a report by the European Commission, 5 out of 10 risk factors for chronic non-communicable diseases are related to nutrition. Food reformulation has been identified as one of the six policies aimed at ensuring healthy eating conditions set by the World Health Organization during the UN Summit at the end of 2021.
In Bulgaria at the moment, the non-alcoholic industry is the first and only sector of the food industry, which officially and voluntarily engages before the Scientific Expert Council of the Ministry of Health to achieve the goal defined in the EU Annex to reduce added sugars. At the end of last year, an independent external evaluation and expertise examining the labeled information of the beverages available on the market confirmed the fulfillment of the voluntary commitment to further reduce the added sugars and calories in carbonated beverages from 2015 to 2020.
As a result of the sector’s long-term efforts, Bulgaria is among the leading markets in terms of the share of carbonated beverages without added sugar – 65.6%, with twice the level of performance compared to the average share in Europe. In our country, only 1 in 5 drinks offered by the non-alcoholic industry contains added sugars, doubling the performance during the first reform meeting, despite the challenging environment with broken supply chains, industrial and economic challenges due to COVID-19 .
“For us, as producers of soft drinks, the issue of reducing added sugars is extremely important because we have been fulfilling our responsible role for decades at both national and European level. For more than 20 years, our industry has been not only a pioneer, but also a leader in reforming and achieving the goals we have set, namely a healthier, more balanced and sustainable nutrient environment. To achieve a sustainable reduction in the consumption of added sugar through soft drinks, our efforts are focused not only on the formulas and categories we develop, but also on the implementation of a set of measures and voluntary commitments – including transparent and effective consumer information through clear food labeling, encouraging the intake of smaller portions of beverages by offering smaller packages, responsible marketing and regular and independent monitoring,” said Jana Velichkova, Executive Director of the Bulgarian Soft Drinks Association.
The next voluntary commitments of the non-alcoholic industry at EU level include another 10% average reduction in added sugars, as well as a new commitment to responsible marketing without advertising and offering on media channels, including digital and social media, to children under 13. ( increase the age limit by 1 year compared to the previous commitment) and reduced the audience threshold to 30%.
During the seminar meeting, it became clear that in order to achieve sustainable results in reducing the consumption of added sugars, a multilateral approach and collective action by all participants is needed. One of the bodies that unite the scientific community, institutions and representatives of the associations is the Scientific-Expert Council on Food, formed by Order of the Minister of Health in 2017.
“We have done a lot of work in the Scientific Expert Council on Food, developing more than 30 approved standards with reduced salt, sugar or fat, together with the associations of food and beverage producers. Our last activity before COVID-19 was the specification and development of national limit values for salt, fats, saturated fatty acids and sugars, in priority food groups for the country. These limit values are the result of very long consultations, are published on the website of the Ministry of Health and are voluntary to be applied by the industry. This is the basis for comparison, according to which all manufacturers can see in which direction to develop their new products. We do not have a new order yet, but I very much hope that the Council will continue its work, as it is extremely important and I think that in the future the work on monitoring this process should be a priority for the Ministry of Health,” said Prof. Veselka Duleva, Head of the Food and Nutrition Department at the National Health Insurance Fund and National Consultant in Nutrition and Dietetics at the Ministry of Health.
A key factor in monitoring the implementation of commitments is the introduction of a unified and standardized monitoring system, covering all sectors of the food industry. A monitoring methodology is currently being developed at European level. In the joint actions, of which the NCPHA and the Ministry of Health are a part, a monitoring department has been developed, which has been tested in two Member States, and Bulgaria is scheduled for next year.
About the Bulgarian Soft Drinks Association
The Bulgarian Soft Drinks Association in Bulgaria represents a large part of the innovative and dynamic non-alcoholic industry, the interests of companies, beverage producers, suppliers of packaging, raw materials, materials, machinery and equipment. Founded in 1996, BSDA is a long-standing member of the European bottled water industry structures (NMWE), soft drink producers (UNESDA) and juice and nectar producers (AIJN).
The main goal is to maintain a strong commitment to ensure the representation of industry interests in consultations with national and other bodies and institutions (including European and international). We are also actively working for the progressive development of product categories and for increasing the knowledge and understanding among the society about their safe consumption.