Health claim 'Chinese whispers' may haunt approval process

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Efsa European union

"Subtle language differences" may confound regulators in
the midst of translating thousands of health claims ahead of a
pan-European 2010 approval deadline, according to various industry

They are concerned certain words and phrases such as "restores health"​ and "improves function"​ may get lost in translation, leading to some claims being interpreted as medicinal in certain member states. Medicinal claims are prohibited under the auspices of the European Union health and nutrition claims regulation that was enacted in January 2007. Meaning warp ​Poland is one member state that is concerned. Kinga Wojcicka, foreign affairs communication supervisor at the Polish Council for Supplements and Nutritional Foods, said there were certain Polish claims that did not readily translate into English or other European languages. ​She told at last week's Food Ingredients Central and Eastern Europe trade show in Warsaw that her association was concerned about claims translation and interpretation and the possible "meaning warp"​ that could occur. Simon Pettman, the Belgian-based director of consultancy EAS, agreed the translation issue was one that may cause problems as the European Commission and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) go about the process of preparing and assessing the 1000s of claim applications in their inboxes. "It is definitely something that needs to be looked at seriously,"​ Pettman said. "With 27 member states there are bound to be problems. But most of these can probably be overcome but the question is: does the EC and EFSA have enough resources to do that? They are already under incredible pressure to meet the January, 2010 deadline to process all claims and with something like 40,000 claims in the EC's hands at the moment, it is an understatement to say the scale of the task is immense."Found in translation ​An EFSA spokesperson told the Parma-Italy based assessor's English-based approach was flexible enough to deal with any language peculiarities that may arise. "Translation subtleties will not enter into this part of EFSA's risk assessment work, as all applications will either beprovided in English by the applicant, or the applicant will be able to check the English translation which will be done by EFSA,"​ said EFSA press officer, Alun Jones. ​Explaining its current position in relation to the issue, an EFSA website FAQ states: "In order to facilitate the processing of the application and make the assessment more efficient, applications should preferably be submitted in English. Should the applicant not provide the English translation, EFSA will translate those parts of the application in English. However, it should be noted that the responsibility for validating the English translation of the application provided by the EFSA rests with the applicant." ​Patrick Coppens of the European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA) said although no formal guidance had been given in the area of translation, the EC should put less attention on the wording of claims and pay more heed to the health relationship being referred to. "This would cut down the number of claims to be sent to EFSA when the EC is done processing them by 10-fold due to the removal of duplicates."

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