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EU health claims law broader than companies may realise, EAS

By Clarisse Douaud , 30-Aug-2007

Many companies are under the misconception that EU's nutrition and health claims regulation only applies to claims made on actual products, say food law experts.

At a one-day training workshop, Guy Valkenborg, director of food and nutrition consultancy EAS, and food law expert Patrick Coppens, spoke to attendees on how this regulation is broader than many companies may realise. As such, the regulation impacts a lot of activities surrounding a company's product, meaning they should pay special attention to comply. "It's applicable to all commercial communications, and that's very broad," said Coppens. "It includes every claim that you make on your label, brochure, on web sites, in press articles and so forth, which is a whole new structure from the way companies operate today." The health and nutrition claims (Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006), which came into force in the UK from 1 July 2007, means any food product claiming to have a health or nutritional benefit must meet a list of European Commission approved wording. The scope of the changes will not just affect food packaging, but website content associated with the food as well. The regulation differentiates between claims on the basis of three categories: nutrient claims, health claims, disease reduction claims and claims relating to children's development and health. As part of the workshop, EAS offered practical tips for companies on these categories, though in practice companies cannot apply the new legislation yet because many aspects remain unclear. "At a point where companies should apply the new rules, they cannot because Member States are still deciphering the meaning of many of the provisions, such as what is covered under the various definitions, when and how the procedures need to be followed, how the transition periods need to be interpreted," said Coppens. He added this means companies are left to read between the lines rather than have legal certainty. The speakers also raised the issue of other aspects of the regulation, including: authorisation procedures and transition periods, data protection, comparative claims, trademarks and brand names, nutrient profiles, scope, marketing and publicity, as well as the controversial Article 13 list which will be developed by 2010. Under Article 13, claims must be substantiated on the basis of generally accepted scientific evidence, and be well understood by the average consumer. However, the issue has been mired in uncertainty since no guidelines have been issued by the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) concerning how much or what type of scientific evidence is needed, and how the "average consumer" is defined. The article must be submitted by member states by early 2008, after which the final list will be drawn up within two years. There are no guarantees that proposed claims will make it onto the final list, and if there are any surprises companies may find themselves having to withdraw products immediately. EAS specialises in international regulation on food and nutritional products, as well as works to provide companies with regulatory and strategic advice for the marketing of products in Europe.

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