Premature health claims draw EFSA attention
action for falsely stating it had received European approval for a
number of health claims.
Atlas World circulated a press release on popular industry websites on Tuesday proclaiming the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had approved four immunity-oriented health claims for the mushroom variety, Agaricus blazei. However, EFSA has not yet begun to assess the thousands of claims that companies and trade associations within the European Union's 27 member states submitted before a January 2008 deadline under new pan-EU health claims regulations. An application for four immunity-based health claims has been made by an unnamed party, but EFSA is not expected to deliver an opinion on that (or any other) application until later this year. Consequences Following a NutraIngredients.com investigation, EFSA confirmed it had not assessed claims regarding the Agaricus blazei mushroom. The regulator then contacted Atlas querying its statement, prompting Atlas to remove its missive from the sites that had published it. Atlas chief operating officer, Yori Takeda, told NutraIngredients.com: "There may be a possibility of a mistake/misunderstanding about the EFSA approval. We confused the application document with an approval document - that was how this mistake was made." Under the European Union's new nutrition and health claim laws, all health claims carry the same weight regardless of whether they are made on-label, on websites, in text messages, press releases or any other medium. "These kind of claims could lead to a potential court action," said European food law specialist, Jean Savigny, a Belgian-based partner at Keller and Heckman. "The question is: has Atlas derived any economic benefit from the release of this statement? If it can be shown they have, then a competitor or a European government or agency may have grounds to bring an action against them and it might succeed." Atlas World is still developing its presence in Europe - only one Greek-based operator currently distributes its products - but the firm sells its Agaricus Bio and Agaricus Ekismate supplements in Greece, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as the US. False claims Atlas's statement, entitled 'EFSA Approves Health Claims for Agaricus Blazei Mushroom' read, in part: "…the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has approved health claims for Agaricus blazei mushroom." Atlas said EFSA had approved the following claims: "Helps the natural defences/contributes to a normal immune response" "Helps the body to resist biologic insults" "Support the immune system" "Is rich in beta glucans that contributes to the immune activity" Patrick Coppens, executive director of the Belgium-based industry group, the European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA), condemned Atlas's action. "The first thing this company needs to do is publish a correction," he said. "A company has a responsibility to make sure its business statements are not misleading and Atlas has clearly failed in its duty to do this. It may be difficult to prosecute, especially if the company is acting through a distributor as is the case here, but this kind of misleading statement is the kind of action that has the potential to tarnish the whole industry." Atlas told NutraIngredients.com it will publish a correction.