Health claims focus

European Union health claims: where to now?

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition European union

By this time next year, one of the central ambitions of Europe’s brand-spanking new nutrition and health claims system may well be in place – a centralised list of approved claims available for all to use across the European Union bloc.

A plethora of probiotic claims, omega-3 claims, plant sterol/stanol claims, vitamin and mineral claims, fibre claims, antioxidant claims and more all listed in one convenient register and backed by robust science.

Industry (finally) able to honestly communicate the health-giving benefits of a wide range of inherently healthy foods, fortified foods and food supplements to the bloc’s 500 million consumers.

No more outrageous and misleading claims. No more ambiguous claim making to fudge national rules. One list for all. Clear and unambiguous.

Consumers getting the information they need to make informed choices about the food products they buy. Industry getting a scientifically-backed system that allows it to economically make those claims. Everybody happy.

Or not.

Everybody happy?

The problem industry has with the system so far is that 80 per cent of the 70-odd claims processed so far by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have been rejected for failing to meet its scientific criteria.

If that rejection rate is extrapolated over 4000 health claims EFSA is due to give opinion on by next year, that would mean more than 3000 claims would be scrapped.

This would not make industry so happy.

Waiting on article 13.1 opinions

But this kind of extrapolation is not necessarily fair as the decisions handed in so far by EFSA scientists have related to a particular part of the regulation that deals with emerging and proprietary science claims (article 13.5) and children’s and disease reduction claims (article 14).

The real litmus test of where this regulation is at is due by the end of the month when EFSA will publish the first instalment of about 1000 of 4000 article 13.1 generic claims.

If a large number of these are rejected industry may turn the concern-o-meter up to shrill and look more seriously at ways of protecting its interests if it feels its good science is not being given a fair airing by the regulation.

One EU food lawyer told the regulation’s implementation was ripe for challenge in the courts because it has been done ambiguously and not met its mandates.

Trade groups such as the European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA) have indicated a legal challenge is a possibility, something that may become quite compelling to major food and ingredients companies who could incur multimillion euro dents in their sales if swathes of health claims are canned.

But until the next batch of claims is published, such an extreme measure, along with all others, will remain purely hypothetical.

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