Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Last updated: 28 May, 2019

EU Legislation on Food for Special Groups (formerly PARNUTS)

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The first controls on foods for particular nutritional uses were introducted in 1977 by Directive 77/94. This created the concept of 'foods for particular nutritional uses' (commonly referred to as PARNUTS) and defined the concept in two ways. It stated that: "Foodstuffs for particular nutritional uses are foodstuffs which, owing to their special composition or manufacturing process , are clearly distinguishable from foodstuffs for normal consumption, which are suitable for their claimed nutritional purposes and which are marketed in such a way as to indicate such suitability." It then added that: "A particular nutritional use must fulfil the particular nutritional requirements: (i) of certain categories of persons whose digestive processes or metabolism are disturbed, or (ii) of certain categories of persons who are in a special physiological condition and who are therefore able to obtain special benefit from a controlled consumption of certain substances in foodstuffs, or (iii) of infants or young children in good health." It also reserved the use of the words 'dietetic' and 'dietary' to foods meeting these definitions.

As part of the process to create the 'Internal Market', the legislation was modified in 1989 with the adoption of Directive 89/398. This created a 'framework' control (containing the same elements as Directive 77/94) and provisions for the adoption of various 'specific Directives' for products listed in an Annex. The original list contained the following:

1. Infant formulae; 2. Follow-up milk and other follow-up foods; 3. Baby foods; 4. Low-energy and energy-reduced foods intended for weight control; 5. Dietary foods for special medical purposes; 6. Low-sodium foods, including low-sodium or sodium-free dietary salts; 7. Gluten-free foods; 8. Foodsjntended to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort, especially for sportsmen; 9. Foods for persons suffering from carbohydrate-metabolism disorders (diabetes)

The need for all these specific controls was subject to some discussion and in 1999 (by Directive 99/41) the list was reduced to the following (with the possibility of also including diabetic foods still left as an option):

1. Infant formulae and follow-on formulae; 2. Processed cereal-based foods and baby foods for infants and young children; 3. Food intended for use in energy-restricted diets for weight reduction; 4. Dietary foods for special medical purposes; 5. Foods intended to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort, especially for sportsmen

A new text, with limited changes, was subsequently published in 2009 (Directive 2009/39). However in 2011 the Commission proposed a simplified structure limiting controls to 4 main categories. This was subsequently adopted in 2013 as Regulation No 609/2013. This removed the concept of 'dietetic' or 'dieatry' foods and established the framework for specific controls on the following:

(a) infant formula and follow-on formula; (b) processed cereal-based food and baby food; (c) food for special medical purposes; (d) total diet replacement for weight control.

It did also include the option of specific controls for 'Milk-based drinks and similar products intended for young children' and 'Food intended for sportspeople'. Controls on the four categories exist (see below). Following Commission reports on the 2 optional categories, it is unlikely that that these will be progressed. The title of the new Regulation is long and refers to the various categories to which it applies. The simplified term, 'Food for Specific Groups' has therefore been informally adopted to cover these terms and to replace the original PARNUTS acronym. The Regulation became effective from 20 July 2016.

The following illustrates some aspects of this chronology:

For a larger version of this figure, see: Figure: Foods for Special Groups - History (pdf format)

For the Commission's page on this topic, see: Dietetic Foods/Foods for specific groups

Access to the EU Legal Documents

Main Controls

Specific Controls

Infant formula and follow-on formula

Processed cereal-based food and baby food

Food for special medical purposes

For previous controls, see below

Total diet replacement for weight control

Selected Links to Earlier EU Legal Documents

Food for special medical purposes


A consolidated text is available. See: Directive 1999/21 - Consolidated Text (July 2013)

Total diet replacement for weight control



Department of Health: Guidance notes on the notification of marketing of foods for particular nutritional uses, medical foods and infant formula

Originally published in 2013. See also: Medical foods notification form (updated February 2019)

DH guidance notes on the infant formula and follow-on formula regulations 2007 (as amended)

Originally published in 2013. See also: Infant formula foods notification form (updated February 2019)

This page was first provided on 12 August 2016
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