ASA clamps down on Flora pro.activ blood vessel claims

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Plant sterols Nutrition Blood vessel

The UK's Advertising Standards Agency seems to be tightening its
grip on health claims, with Unilever reportedly told to change
adverts for Flora pro.activ to remove claims that it can help keep
blood vessels healthy as well as lower cholesterol levels.

The rap for Unilever comes just a week after the ASA said that Dairy Crest had misused a clinical study on omega-3 and children's ability to concentrate and learn, in making claims for its omega-3-enriched, St Ivel Advance milk.

The ASA is due to release its report on the Flora pro.activ advertisements tomorrow, and a spokesperson from the agency declined to comment on the matter in advance of this.

However press reports have claimed that the ASA took issue with advertisements that stated: "A spread that not only lowers cholesterol but also helps keep blood vessels healthy? What have you been eating?"

Even though the Joint Health Claims Initiative has not approved a generic health claim linking plant sterols to cholesterol-reduction, there is a considerable body of scientific data to back this up. Indeed, the claim is fully approved in a number of countries, and products containing plant sterols and stanols have been on the market in Europe for ten years.

The ASA reportedly took issue with the blood vessel claim however.

Unilever issued a statement saying:

"It is well accepted that products containing plant sterols help lower cholesterol. This in itself helps maintain healthy blood vessels. However in any future advertising we will not make a distinct claim that the B vitamins in the pro.activ product, on their own, help maintain blood vessel health."

EU legislation to harmonise health claims across the bloc is currently in the works, and is expected to come into force before the year is out. The form of the legislation has been a hotly contested issue, but under a compromise reached in May, it looks likely that products will have to be registered with food safety authorities before they can be launched on the market, with a maximum time frame given for a decision.

Although this legislation has proved controversial since it will necessitate companies to compile expensive dossiers of science to support their claim, the hope is that it will reduce instances of false or misleading claims.

As for Unilever, pro.activ has been instrumental in helping the Flora brand to become well-recognised but the shelves on which the spreads, milk, yoghurt and yoghurt drinks sit have become increasingly crowded as cholesterol-reducing foods capture the imagination of consumers and health care practitioners.

In addition to its old competitor Benecol, lower cost products have also started to appear in recent months, such as Tesco's private label products containing Forbes MediTech's Reducol brand plant sterols.

Benecol Light Spread sells at Tesco for £3.99 for 500g, Flora pro.activ Extra Light for £1.95 for 250g, and the Tesco brand for £2.99 for 500g.

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