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ECJ alcohol ruling strengthens EU health claims position

By Shane Starling , 25-Sep-2012
Last updated the 01-Oct-2012 at 13:50 GMT

The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has given strength to EU health claim laws by backing health claims of “temporary or fleeting effects”.

At first glance the ruling – in relation to an alcohol case in Germany – may appear to open the door to the kind of vague claims the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) seeks to eradicate, but legal experts said it did not necessarily undermine the tough scientific criteria in place to back claims.

“This broadens the scope of the regulation for sure as it says you can restrict free speech when there are public health concerns,” said Luca Bucchini, PhD, MPH, the managing director of Italian-based Hylobates Consulting.

The ruling said claims such as “aids digestion” were permissible under the NHCR, even as guidance issued by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has indicated such general claims were difficult to validate.

“People thought weak claims would fall out of the scope of the regulation, but while this backs the NHCR, it does not challenge the scientific principles of the regulation. It just says if a claim is against the public health interest then it should not be permissible.”

Other NCHR challenges

Sebastian Melchor Romero, partner at K&L Gates in Brussels, agreed the ruling strengthened the NHCR position, although it may not be so relevant in bolstering the validity of the NHCR in separate legal challenges to the regulation yet to be heard by the ECJ.

“This ruling confirms broad food and health relationships, but the other cases are about procedural elements of the NHCR, so it may not help much there, but it certainly won’t harm the position of the NHCR either.”

He added: "The EU adopted a broad interpretation of the definition of 'health claim' by ruling that claims for merely temporary or fleeting effects of a food on human health, such as in the claim 'easily digestible', are indeed health claims." 

The ruling can be found here.

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