Eastern European countries hoping to join the European Union could find a threatened botanical industry in wait, according to an EU food law expert.
Speaking at the 11th International Workshop on Nutrition & Health Claims Europe in Brussels, Dr Barbara Klaus, a lawyer at Klaus Legal in Italy, said there had been movement within botanical health claims following the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) decision to approve its first claim in the field, but added challenges in clarification and market confidence still lay ahead.
Talking with NutraIngredients, Dr Klaus said that EU candidates like Ukraine that were known to have strong botanical markets would have to get in line with tough EU regulation in the event of official membership.
She said the botanical markets of EU-member states like Italy, where the plant-based supplements are popular, have been endangered by strict EFSA assessments.
Botanical industry threatened
So far only one botanical claim has been approved under the 2006 nutritional and health claim regulation (NHCR) that preferences clinical, human data - something that is hard to come by within the botanical sector, she explained.
As a result these candidate countries could face a similar phenomenon to that seen in Italy, whereby a strong tradition of botanical supplements was hit by the stipulations, she said.
Klaus said the ability to make health claims was vital to the botanical sector. "Why would anybody take a supplement without a claim? You don't take them for the taste," she said.
A recent report from PMR on the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) supplement market - in which Ukrainian was one of the three countries studied - found that regulation and its enforcement differed when compared to the EU. "Of course there is much more freedom in CIS than in EU regarding marketing and sales of dietary supplements," Monika Stefanczyk, head pharmaceutical market analyst for the research firm, told NutraIngredients.
She said regulation in these markets - for example the prohibition of presentation of food supplements as drugs - is not strictly obeyed. "In fact this is a common practice to present dietary supplements as if they had healing properties. Last but not least health claims regulations are not binding there," she said.
Klaus said so far there had been regional differences in approaches to botanicals. "It may be that some countries like Italy might be more open to botanicals, while other countries like Germany might be stricter," she said.
Movement in the midst
EFSA's October ruling in favour of the bowel benefits of a plant-based blend of hydroxyanthracene marked a move forward for the segment, she observed.
Although markets like Italy had not yet felt the full effects of the regulation - "because everything has been put on hold" - authorities were keen to find a solution."The Commission is trying to find a solution because they know they would be murdering an industry," she said.
Meanwhile Italy recently entered into a legal consensus with France and Belgium called BELFRIT , an agreement seeking to unify positive lists for botanical products across Europe.