A big day for European health claims

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Related tags: Health claims, European food safety authority

A big day for European health claims
Next Monday, June 15, is a big day for the European healthy foods and food supplements industries. Let’s call it Big Monday. Or J15.

The Buddhists call them “turning around days” ​– destiny-altering days where things can never be the same again – and that is what J15 is shaping up to be for the health claims regime here in Europe.

Either things will be a lot clearer about how to gather and present health claim-backing data, or industry better start accepting that Europe is going to be a health claims wasteland come 2010. Is your company factoring in worst-case scenarios?

On J15, about 120 executives from some of the biggest food, supplements and ingredients companies in Europe will convene at a central Brussels hotel to "have a talk"​ with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) about health claims.

Many in industry are pinning their hopes on EFSA showing them the light at the meeting, including the likes of Danone, which withdrew three probiotic immunity/digestive health article 13.5 claims in April, citing clarification it is expecting on Big Monday as the reason.

New process

When it pulled its claims, Danone, looking forward, said it “welcomed the new process” ​it is expecting from this meeting, but EFSA hasn’t said anything about a new process and its guidelines have provided little that hasn't been said before.

The congress was called by EFSA in response to growing industry concern, and in many cases dismay and anger, “to provide further guidance” ​the Parma-based science body has gathered, “in the light of the experience gained with the evaluation of health claims applications”.

EFSA pre-empted the agenda of the meeting with a Q&A published last month. The document contained information about appropriateness and relevance of science to claims, about claim wording and more, but drew a lacklustre response from industry for want of anything hinting at a “new process”.​ Or anything new at all.

Won’t go changin’?

And so the pressure only grows that Big Monday will produce answers, or at least “further guidance”​, but many who have observed this process unfold in recent years, and in particular since claim opinions started rolling in in August last year, are sceptical about what revelations are likely at this stage in the game.

NutraIngredients.com will be there for the ‘media breakfast’ EFSA has organised on J15 but no media is allowed into the meeting itself. "Too distracting,"​ EFSA said, perhaps not doing itself any favours in its intent to be viewed as a transparent organisation.

If the Q&A essentially reiterates previously issued guidelines, why should Big Monday be any different?

Claims hope

Maybe it won’t be but then just maybe there will be something more constructive for industry. An EFSA scientist told this publication recently that some rejected dossiers only marginally missed out on a thumbs up from the assessor; that a more careful selection of claim wording or slightly altered interpretation of the science could have got the dossier over the health claims line.

This kind of advice could be useful for industry.

If not, industry had better start actioning contingency plans because claims that have been taken for granted in many countries for many years may be heading to the great health claims hole in the sky.

Is your company prepared for that? If not, 2010 and beyond may be a most unpleasant odyssey in the European health claims space - for both you and for consumers.

Shane Starling is the editor of NutraIngredients.com and fears the European health claims space has made him very unwell. If you would like to comment on this article please feel free to get in touch at shane.starling'at'decisionnews.com.

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