It hopes the Ombudsman will be able to bring it and the European Commission together so that health claim publication procedures can be modified. Already the action has borne some fruit, as the EC reacted this morning by stating it would revisit its approach.
The Brussels-based group otherwise known as the European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers has grown increasingly frustrated as its concerns about the slanted economic impact of publishing opinions in batches and the kind of scientific criteria being employed to assess claims, have largely fallen on deaf ears.
EHPM president Peter van Doorn told NutraIngredients this morning that the complaint had been issued because other avenues had been exhausted such as formal letters requesting dialogue with the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Van Doorn said the concerns needed to be examined by a third party, and did not rule out a legal challenge if the Ombudsman’s assessment, hoped for by year’s end, failed to initiate any change in the system.
“The standard argument given for this is protection of consumers but we dispute that waiting some months to publish all claims simultaneously will harm consumers,” he said.
The European Commission has previously expressed its opposition to the batch-wise publication of generic article 13.1 health claims but subsequently committed to that form of publication, following the first publication of opinions by EFSA.
Responding to the action, an EC spokesperson told this publication that the batch publication was prompted by the sheer volume of claims (more than 4000).
Once committed to the system, it was, “in the interest of the consumers to receive this information very soon” especially if the claims lacked substantiation – hence the publication in batches.
“However the Commission is taking the concerns expressed about a step-by-step approach seriously and is looking into it again,” she said.
The first batch of EFSA opinions, published in October 2009, has yet to be written into EU law books.
The European Ombudsman seeks to find solutions for cases of maladministration and normally acts in a mediatory role. It can make recommendations to European bodies such as the EC and notes on its website that notification of a complaint can prompt such bodies to change practises.
If these are not accepted it can issue a special report to the European Parliament, but none of its recommendations are binding.
Owen Warnock, a UK-based lawyer specialising in food labelling practises, said while an Ombudsman’s recommendations were not binding, they may be admissible in a court such as the European Court of Justice if the regulation was ever challenged there or in another court.
But he questioned how seriously its recommendations would be taken.
In a statement van Doorn said: “We have been constructive and fair partners throughout the process and we have invested many hundreds of hours to try to ensure a fair outcome. Unfortunately we feel that our concerns have not been seriously considered.”
“Ultimately we believe that the current process is seriously flawed and if the Commission continues with its batch-wise approach to the implementation of Article 13.1 of the claims Regulation, legal and valid claims that are essential for the food supplement and food ingredient sectors will be wiped out – without taking any time to seriously consider what we stand to lose. “