The EU’s central food science agency will next month open a consultation on immune and gut health that will inform a revised guidance that could come before year’s end and may appease sector anxiety.
The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) health claims panel chief, professor Ambroise Martin, told the International Probiotics Association (IPA) World Congress on the weekend that a consultation would open in mid-June with all stakeholder input welcomed.
Academics and industry folk at the event welcomed the move and the seeming support from professor Martin for the sector, even though the Panel on Dietetic Products Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) he heads has rejected more than 300 probiotic applications since 2008. None have been approved.
“We will definitely submit information,” said a representative of one leading probiotic supplier at the event in Athens, Greece. “But we’ll see if this makes any difference. The track record is not encouraging.”
Genomic and microbiome advances, as well as revisions of accepted biomarkers and valid populations are among expected changes.
In a presentation to the congress professor Martin gave personal backing for probiotics when he stated, “I hope there will be a positive opinion.”
Professor Martin also affirmed that borderline non-healthy populations were admissible in health claim dossiers.
“Take antibiotic associated diarrhea – no problem. We can assess that. The population does not have to be healthy. We have accepted IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). We have no problem to be at the borderline. Sometimes it is very subtle.”
The probiotic ban – risk managers v risk assessors
When probed about his view on the current EU situation where even the word ‘probiotic’ is banned as a marketing term across the EU 28-bloc, professor Martin ventured: “My personal opinion would be that I have no problem with the word ‘probiotic’.”
But he noted this was a matter for the EU’s risk managers – the European Commission and the EU’s member states – and had nothing to do with EFSA as a risk assessor despite common misconceptions to the contrary.
“I have no problem but the risk managers did something else,” he said. “We we were never requested to show what was a probiotic.”
“Probiotic people are very nice…”
When the chief of a UK probiotic manufacturer that has had its marketing publicly slapped down under the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) suggested it must be painful for professor Martin to enter a hive of such animosity he replied:
“It is always interesting to discuss things with people that disagree with you. Probiotic people are very nice. I don’t feel guilty of anything – I feel comfortable.”