9 July 2015: opinion AG Jääsikinen in Neptune Distribution (C-157/14)
Marketing of natural mineral water is specially regulated by the Directive 2009/54 in the EU. It determines the maximum level of sodium that natural mineral waters could contain in order to be advertised as suitable for a low-sodium diet. Due to the special character of these provisions, the question arose whether they take precedence over or rather are complimentary to the Regulation No 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims. Specifically, while in the Annex of the Regulation the claim on "low sodium/ salt" seems to exclude from its application natural mineral waters, the same exclusion has not been added to the claim on "very low sodium/ salt". The levels of "low sodium/ salt" are the same in both these measures, but the Directive is silent on the "very low sodium/ salt" standard.
AG Jääsikinen confirms that also producers of natural mineral water while marketing it must follow the guidelines as to what could be labelled as a "very low sodium/ salt" product from the Regulation. Additionally, in the answer to one of the posed question, the AG states that in the calculation of the sodium level all sorts of sodium should be considered (and not only table salt - sodium chloride - as Neptune Distribution has argued for). (Par. 29-33) If this opinion is upheld by the CJEU this will mean that natural mineral water could not be labelled as "very low sodium/ salt" if it contained very little table salt, but the overall sodium level would be high to the e.g. appearance of some baking soda in it (apparently present in certain natural mineral waters). This assessment doesn't surprise in light of the overall aim of protecting consumer health. (Par. 47-48)