Consumer press highlights probiotic health claim failures

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Efsa

Last week’s European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) health claim opinions have received a lot of mainstream media attention in the UK national consumer press, with the probiotic claim rejections gaining the most attention.

The BBC, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Irish Times, Marie Claire ​as well as the Wall Street Journal ​were among the media outlets that ran articles about the 523 dossiers assessed by EFSA in 94 opinions.

The Guardian ​yesterday ran a story with the headline ‘Taking the pro out of probiotic’ which emphasised the fact not a single gut health or immunity probiotic claim had been approved by EFSA scientists, as well as other claims for the likes of taurine and energy and glucosamine and joint health.

Hammer blow

The daily broadsheet’s​Felicity Lawrence wrote that the verdicts were ‘a hammer blow’ ​which led her to an analysis of the functional foods industry.

“The exponential growth in ‘functional foods’ began in the 1990s when manufacturers were increasingly under pressure from supermarkets using their dominance to squeeze suppliers' margins. Packaging highly processed foods up with health claims was one way for brands to maintain a premium in a saturated market.”

She concluded: “The claims that did make it through the EFSA process last week were mostly for vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. But affirmation that calcium, available in milk, and meat and eggs, is good for bones or that iron, available in dark green leafy vegetables and wholemeal bread as well as meat, is good for blood function, does not present quite the same scope for proprietary profit.”

Probiotic defence

The BBC noted the large number of dossier rejections but quoted a Yakult spokesperson defending its strains, which, like Danone’s, are yet to be assessed.

"Yakult has submitted claims for ​Lactobacillus casei Shirota, a well characterised probiotic strain unique to Yakult,”​ the spokesperson said. "Evidence for its health benefit is based on over 70 human studies and over 70 years of research.”

False

The Daily Telegraph​ ran the provocative headline, ‘Claims many probiotic drinks are healthy 'are false', says EU watchdog’.

The paper’s Andrew Hough wrote: “Experts said it was a blow to the UK's ‘dairy shots’ industry, which is worth £220m annually and relies heavily on positive [claims].”

Wheat and chaff

The UK consumer products watchdog, Which?​, was the most damning, issuing a statement that said in part:

"A huge number of food products claim to have health benefits, but finally we are separating the wheat from the chaff. Incredibly, only a third of health claims looked at by EFSA could be backed up.

"Clearly many food companies are exploiting people's interest in improving their health, often over-charging them for alleged health benefits which can't be proved.”

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