For instance how might an industry-backed website called ‘Probiotics for Life’ be interpreted by the regulation?
At the table were Henry Dixon, the owner of UK-based food industry PR firm, Barrett Dixon Bell; Patrick Coppens, a regulatory expert from European Advisory Services in Brussels and Cedric Bourges from the French claims consultancy, NutraVeris.
“EFSA are not changing their criteria and it seems to me that in the short and medium term we have to get used to it,” said Dixon. “That means there is going to have to be some creative thinking about how we present the right information, the correct information to the consumer in ways that were not possible or necessary before.”
Neutral and balanced positive information
“One of the things we have looked at is the possibility of creating third party endorsement sites and one we looked at was www.probioticsforlife.org which would represent the interests of the probiotics industry – both suppliers and manufacturers – and that could disseminate positive information in a neutral and balanced way about probiotics.”
Asked how such a site could be neutral and balanced if it was industry-backed, Dixon added:
“I think that is unfair. I think it can be neutral and balanced if it is done professionally. It obviously has an agenda but that agenda can be presented in a way that the consumer can understand and can be scientifically backed. They can make their choice but it wouldn’t necessarily link to any specific products on the shelf. It would just say, ‘here are probiotics, here is the science, these are the potential benefits’.”
“It would have to be transparent that it was industry-backed.”
Coppens said such a website may not draw unwanted attention from the nutrition and health claims regulation.
“The regulation clearly limits health claims to foods that are intended for the final consumer,” he said. “So if there is no specific link between a health message and a branded product then that would not fall under the claims legislation and could be freely made. It’s very important that distinction remains because if that was not the case you would not be able to report scientific findings any more, even for journalists.”
“Of course companies are now looking at ways of limiting damage and looking at ways that they can communicate the health benefits of ingredients. You cannot blame the companies for looking for such solutions but I agree that it should be totally transparent.”