Commission needs pragmatic approach to health claims, industry warns

By Alex McNally

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

If the European Commission adopts a "lowest common denominator"
approach to setting health claims innovation could suffer, an
industry group has warned.

The Commission is in the midst of finalising two important pieces of legislation to set maximum levels for minerals and vitamins, and secondly to harmonise the rules for allowing health claims on products. Under article 13 (regulation 1924/2006), which governs any food claims relating to a role of a nutrient, claims must be "based on generally accepted scientific evidence​" and be "well understood by the average consumer​." At the moment it is up to individual member states to regulate what claims are acceptable. Industry has been invited to forward claims they would like to be approved to member state regulators, with scientific backing, which will then be passed to the European Foods Safety Authority (EFSA) by the end of January for assessment. EFSA has just two years to validate the claims and produce a "community" list by January 2010 for Commission approval. Speaking at a meeting organised to update industry of the progress made so far, Joachim Bug chairman of the Association of the European Self-Medication Industry's (AESGP) food supplements committee, warned that innovation could suffer if the health claims legislation is too restrictive. He argued that as member states currently differ on what is already acceptable - with some allowing more claims than others - industry would be dealt a blow if the Commission ruled in favour of a "common denominator" approach. He said the lowest common denominator would be based on what is currently allowed in the more restrictive countries and nothing more, thus limiting the inclusion of additional claims. Bug said: "It remains to be seen whether a pragmatic approach will be taken or if [the commission] will adopt the lowest common denominator. It is the denominator approach which would severely impact innovation to food supplements. If the common denominator is taken then there could be less claims available to make." ​ The issue of health clams has caused much uncertainty across the industry, with guidelines of how to get a claim accepted on the EU wide list unclear. Even now, as the deadline for industry to submit claim proposals passes, much uncertainty still exists. If AESGP's warning is not heeded the legislation could have dire consequences for companies, which if unable to advertise the benefits of a product to consumers, would not have the incentive to develop anything new. To date member states have reported thousands of health claims being submitted to them, and head of unit food law and nutrition at the European Commission Basil Mathioudakis expressed concern over the number of submissions. ​Last week Mathioudakis said: "I am a little bit concerned by the numbers which have been circulating,​" adding that he has heard of one country with a figure of around 4,000.

Related topics: Regulation & Policy, Suppliers

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