Time for a health claims time-out, says industry

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Efsa, European union

Time for a health claims time-out, says industry
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) should delay publishing the first batch of 1024 article 13.1 generic health claims due by the end of July, a meeting was told in Brussels yesterday, as industry concern about its “innovation-killing” effect reaches fever pitch.

With only eight months remaining until the European Union nutrition and health claims process is due to wrap up, the meeting aired industry concerns about EFSA’s gold standard approach to scientific data and the economic implications of the staggered publication of claim opinions.

Other points raised included the possible introduction of a gold, silver and bronze grading for supporting science (rather than just a gold standard) and the consequences for a regulation for which no economic impact assessment has been conducted.

Its impact on innovation was noted via a fall in the number of European Patent Office applications, matched by a rise in number from places like China and Japan.

Period of reflection

The meeting, chaired by two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) members –​Jules Maaten and Karin Riis-Jorgensen – and attended by Dr Ivan Baines of the German Max Planck Institute, as well as the European Commission’s Lars Korsholm, reached a consensus that a health claims time-out was needed if crippling economic damage to industry is to be avoided and consumer freedom of choice protected.

Maaten and Riis-Jorgensen, along with fellow MEP, Renate Sommer, and trade associations and consultancies such as PA International and European Advisory Services, have stepped up lobbying of the European Commission and member states to put the process on hold while aspects of it are clarified.

David Webber, from PA International, the organiser of yesterday’s event, said the EC can authorise the alteration of health claim deadlines if member state support is forthcoming.

“We are following this up in writing with the EC and, in conjunction with industry and some MEPs, doing all we can to put pressure on the EC via member states,”​ he said.

The EC is listening

The EC’s Korsholm told NutraIngredients.com this morning that the EC – which plays the role of risk manager in the EU claims process (EFSA is the risk assessor) – was not oblivious to industry concerns.

“We are aware of requests from industry to delay the publication of EFSA opinions and that staggered publication could distort the process and create unfairness,”​ he said.

But while these concerns had been registered, the EC’s official position remains unchanged, and it continues to “work towards the fulfilment of the deadlines”.

Responding to industry criticism that a number of EFSA article 13.5 (emerging science) and article 14 (children’s and disease reduction) claim opinions were not explicit enough, Korsholm said there were “no grounds to suggest EFSA’s opinion’s are not clear.”

Patrick Coppens, the executive director of the European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA), who attended the meeting, accused EFSA of inappropriately applying a principle written into the 2006 regulation to “weigh all the evidence”.

“If this is the case how can the risk manager [the EC] take decisions?”

June 15, Brussels…hope?

Korsholm said the EFSA-hosted meeting being held in Brussels on June 15 would allow industry and EFSA to have a dialogue on these issues. More than 230 industry stakeholders applied to attend but there is space for only 120, with no media passes as yet issued.

Coppens said the economic consequences of the regulation were starting to kick in. “It is becoming more tangible that innovation is being stifled and threatened,” ​he said.

He said EFSA’s recent Q&A had delivered little new information and feared the June 15 summit would yield the same result.

“This is a very significant meeting because it is the first time industry can sit down with EFSA and discuss this health claims process but we will have to wait and see how much fresh guidance comes from it,”​ he said.

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