Hopes are rising that the use of the term ‘probiotic’ will not have to disappear on products following the failure of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to give approval for a generic health claim for the ingredient last year.
At a European Commission (EC) working group meeting on nutrition and health claims taking place on Monday [March 18] and involving the UK’s Department of Health (DH), probiotic yogurt manufacturers are hopeful that representations on the use of the word probiotic as a ‘generic descriptor’ for food products will be accepted.
The main agenda item at this meeting will discuss rules governing the application of generic descriptors on product labels.
Organisations such as the Yogurt and Live Fermented Milk Association, Global Alliance for Probiotics and the Provision Trade Federation have in the past lobbied the DH to support this position.
Whether they are successful in convincing the EC will all hinge on questions related to the definition of what constitutes a history of ‘traditional use’, as far as the use of probiotics as a generic descriptor is concerned. While the proposals being discussed by the working group suggest 30 years’ use in the EU as the yardstick, probiotic lobbyists argue that other definitions are equally valid.
Implied health claim
Another item up for debate concerns whether or not generic descriptors ‘could imply an effect on health’. Opponents of allowing the use of the word probiotic argue that it carries an implied health claim.
Earlier last year, the EFSA only approved 222 nutrition and health claims from many thousands originally submitted under the general function health claims category (Article 13.1) as part of the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation. Much to the surprise of those in the field of probiotics, given the strong scientific evidence of their efficacy, none was approved.
As a consequence, since December 14 2012 only approved claims have been permitted on products. But while the major probiotic yogurt manufacturers began removing probiotic labels from their products in anticipation of this decision and the December 14 deadline, some yogurts labelled as probiotic remain on sale in the UK’s major supermarkets.
For example, earlier this week Lancashire Farm probiotic yogurts were still on sale in Sainsbury.
Probiotic yogurt labels not illegal
Experts at a nutrition conference last week [March 8] organised by Leatherhead Food Research (LFR) argued that it was not illegal for products containing ‘probiotic’ on their labels to still be for sale because of the current probiotic claims submissions still being considered.
Nutrition consultant Dr Julian Stowell said: “Certainly the term probiotic isn’t illegal because there are still 70 probiotic claims under consideration by the Commission. So if nothing else changes, the word probiotic is still out there and legal, at least probably to the end of this year, if not beyond.”
LFR’s head of global regulatory services Sukhbinder Gill suggested that some probiotic product manufacturers had gained approval from their local Trading Standards to continue selling products “for a short while” while they were exhausting existing stock.
Gill also referred to the attempts to get probiotic approved as a generic descriptor. “An application was made for probiotic as a generic descriptor and at some point a decision will be made on that,” said Gill.
“There is also the question of whether probiotics will actually fall outwith the claims regulations … so if there is an argument to say, for example, probiotic yogurt is a customary name that may well be within the realm of not being a health claim.”
Meanwhile, FoodManufacture.co.uk’s sister website NutraIngredients.com is staging an online conference on prebiotics and probiotics to take place on March 26 2013.
This event will feature keynote speakers from GoodBelly, Mintel, New Nutrition Business and leading industry suppliers. Presentations will focus on market opportunities and regulatory pressures with a round table discussion on the marketing of probiotics.
More information is available here .