Tighter rules for health claims?

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

British food producers have serious reservations about any move by
Brussels to subject claims they make about their products to
tighter scrutiny.

British food producers say they would have serious reservations about any move by Brussels to subject claims they make about their products to tighter scrutiny, the Financial Times reports. The European Commission is thinking of introducing a stricter regulatory framework for claims, such as those made on products like cholesterol-lowering spreads. The European Commission is currently considering a wider proposal to harmonise rules on nutrition and functional food labelling. The functional food market has provided a multi-billion pound boon for British food manufacturers in recent years as consumers switch to products offering "enhanced"​ health benefits. However, the industry has suffered from accusations by consumer groups that claims are not properly regulated. According to the Commission, there were many variations in the type of claims appearing on labels in member states and it wanted to set a clear benchmark for consumers. The Commission also raised the option of introducing an authorisation system, such as pre-market approval or the compilation of a list of approved claims, as part of its harmonisation proposal. The UK Food and Drink Federation​, which represents food manufacturers, said while it supported harmonisation, it was opposed to mandatory prior approval. British food producers are not required to have their claims scrutinised before going to market, but face action from trading standards officials if they make claims which are later found to be misleading. Jackie Dowthwaite, federation spokeswoman, defended the UK system and said pre-market approval would stifle producers. Ms Dowthwaite said the Joint Health Claims Initiative (JHIC​), a self-regulatory body comprised of industry members, consumer groups and trade officials, was offering pre-market advice to manufacturers and this had offset the need for regulation. "This is a model for the way in which we can work,"​ she said. However, the Consumer's Association, a consumer watchdog group, has been a vocal critic of self-regulation. The association sits on the JHIC Council alongside the federation, but has made a public call for the EU to legislate on health claims. The case for self-regulation has also suffered from recent rulings made by the Advertising Standards Authority, which upheld a number of complaints against food producers for making misleading claims. The Commission has set a November deadline for the new harmonisation directive but some predict this could be delayed as the Commission weighs up members' views. The Food Standards Agency​, which is co-ordinating the British response, said it had received more than 40 comments from a wide cross-section of companies in the industry.

Related topics: Regulation & Policy

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