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Romania battles “arrogant” Walmark over cranberry marketing

By Shane Starling , 18-Feb-2013
Last updated on 20-Feb-2013 at 13:50 GMT2013-02-20T13:50:06Z

Romania battles “arrogant” Walmark over cranberry marketing

A Romanian government official has lodged an official complaint against eastern and central European food supplements mega-brand, Walmark, which it says exploits legal loopholes to bully competitors from market.

Dr Tatiana Onisei, from Romania’s National Office of Medicinal, Aromatic Plants and Bee Products (IBA), said the Czech firm had reported competitors for making cranberry urinary tract infection (UTI) health claims now banned in the European Union, while continuing to market its own product range.

“I have nothing against Walmark vigilance activity on Romanian market – it is helpful for our office, but then they except their own,” Dr Onisei said.

Walmark denied the claims, stating, “We consider that the IBA actions are aimed to intimidate Walmark Romania, as they are not supported by any evidence.”

IBA has complained about television and press adverts for Walmark’s URINAL range of cranberry products for making non-authorised claims under the EU 2006 nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).

URINAL on trial

Under Romania’s complex interdepartmental set-up, the IBA controls safety and registration of plant-based products like cranberry – but marketing authorisations are handled by a National Council for Audio Visual materials, an Agency for Consumer Affairs and the Ministry of Health (MoH).

The MoH is strictly responsible only for vitamin and mineral products.

“Walmark is arrogant,” Dr Onisei said. “They work on the borderline exploiting loopholes in Romanian law. Walmark profits from the lack of cohesion across the departments. They set a bad example for the market.”

Walmark said its products were backed by the MoH but Onisei said this was not the case.

She said the MoH had stated the responsibility of the matter lay with the other agencies, and that in this instance the IBA was awaiting responses to the letter of complaint she sent to all of those agencies, to Walmark, as well as the National Agency for Food Safety on November 8, 2012.

Cranberry-UTI health claims have been banned under the NHCR since December 14 last year, but were only permitted in some EU member states before that.

Walmark defense

Responding, Walmark told us its products had been approved by the MoH for more than 10 years and emphasised that the IBA had no jurisdiction over health claims.

It said it responded to the IBA allegations on November 22. There it asserted its URINAL cranberry claims had been modified in 2009 and now simply warned users of the product that if UTI symptoms did not ease in 48 hours, to seek medical advice.

“Walmark Romania explained that this is a warning useful for consumers as the patients cannot self-diagnose and if the symptoms persists within 48 hours, he/she must re-visit his/her doctor.“

Walmark added: “In its letters IBA just expresses its own opinion regarding the above mentioned matters while the official Romanian authorities do not share IBA’s opinion.”

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