Health claims register enters European Parliament as veto calls rise

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Health claim European union

Health claims register enters European Parliament as veto calls rise
Paola Testori Coggi, the director general of the EC’s Health and Consumer Health Directorate (DG Sanco), yesterday presented a health claims register containing 222 approvals and about 2000 rejections to a European Parliament (EP) committee, as lobbying around the controversial list intensifies.

Coggi (pictured) presented the facts about the register’s construction and highlighted the fact that many claim applications were yet to be decided, including many for botanicals and probiotics, as she attempted to allay concerns held by some MEPs that the scientific approach adopted by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) was not proportionate and delivered a distorted set of health claim opinions.

She noted that a controversial prune-digestive health claim was not yet definitely resolved, but reiterated the register had been approved by EU member states and the relevant parties of the Commission itself.

A spokesperson for Coggi said a memorandum to the Parliament was possible if the Commission felt any issues needed clarification, or "factual distortions"​ addressed. This happened in 2011 when an EC memorandum was issued to the Parliament ahead of a vote on omega-3 eye health claims and content in infant food products. That motion was narrowly carried.

Coggi's presentation was made to the EP’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) with vocal opponents of the nutrition and health claim regulation (NHCR) like MEPs Graham Watson and Julie Girling from England, and Marian Harkin from Ireland, in attendance and calling for the regulation to be vetoed.

“Not allowing health claims won’t help consumers, producers or retailers,”​ Girling said.

Pro-NHCR MEPs included Antonyia Parvanova from Bulgaria and Dagmar Roth-Behrendt from Germany.

Parvanova said only scientific evidence should be accepted and not “grand-mother evidence.”

Apples and oranges

The anti-NHCR group the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) entered the fray by today issuing a campaign pack to all 736 MEPs and "EU citizens"​ highlighting its concerns that the NHCR unfairly prejudices small to medium companies because of the expense of compiling and filing applications, and is based upon inappropriate and disproportionate scientific criteria.

“Ms Coggi’s claim that 200 claims from 500 entries have been accepted is a little disingenuous, as the 500 entries are consolidated claims, while the 220 approved ones are individual claims; it’s like comparing apples and oranges,”​ executive and scientific director, Robert Verkerk, PhD, told NutraIngredients.

“So far, 2,538 of 2,758 general function claims have not been successfully evaluated, amounting to a 92% rejection rate. Many of these evaluations were unsuccessful because insufficient data were provided, meaning that if companies are able to provide more of the right kind of data, further approvals will be issued.”

This is actually the case with the much-publicised prune/digestive health claim, which is still pending. We’ve been assured by the California Prune Board that it expects a successful outcome for this claim by the end of the year. But many botanical suppliers don’t have this kind of money, nor are the health relationships quite so obvious and, relatively speaking, easy to study.”

His group called on MEPs to veto the register, “if for no other reason than the fact that the data threshold is yet undecided and evaluation of claims for most botanicals are pending.”

 “Mandating some claims, while delaying decisions on others, creates a highly disproportionate situation with consumers and smaller businesses being the biggest losers given the inevitable confusion that will ensue.”

The campaign pack can be found here.

It is expected the EP will vote on the register within 90 days. If it passes, six months after that, the 2000 claim rejections will be banned across the EU.

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