But an imminent EP vote that will approve 222 claims and reject 2000-or-so others is unlikely to be affected, MEPs in attendance warned.
“What it was about was giving a signal to the European Commission that we are going to have to do something here,” event chair and British MEP, Julie Girling told NutraIngredients afterwards.
“What we‘ve got may be actually technically correct but it is not possibly what MEPs thought they were going to get, it’s not necessarily what they need, and it may be that the time has come to consider looking at claims, depending on the product and the market in slightly different ways;…so the amount of testing in some markets may be appropriate to be at pharmaceutical levels on some products but there are many products like basic food ingredients like prunes where that kind of testing is totally inappropriate.”
While expressing such reservations, Girling said she would vote in favour of the register on March 21, because,“There is no value in throwing claims out because then we are back to square one.”
Even vocal NHCR critic, the Irish MEP Marian Harkin, said it was unlikely a majority of 736 MEPs could be mustered to oppose the general function health claim vote on Wednesday week, but forcefully took the European Commission’s Basil Mathioudakis to task over the way it was being interpreted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Mathioudakis reiterated the Commission’s well-known position that the regulation stipulates a uniform application of scientific criteria to all kinds of claims (disease risk reduction versus general function claims for example), but Harkin said ‘recital 26’ of the NHCR demonstrated this was not the case.
Harkin said such ambiguity gave grounds to a revision of the regulation.“I respect the work of EFSA but it clearly says the assessment should be different.”
She also wondered if shop assistants giving advice on banned claims could face prosecution. Mathioudakis said that was a matter for member state authorities.
Girling hinted another approach to immediate regulatory revision may be more pragmatic.
“I think what Marion is saying is that the original legislation has been misinterpreted. I think that is one approach and it is a perfectly valid approach. But I’m not entirely convinced that that solves the whole issue. I wonder if it might be better to invoke Parliament’s new right to impact assessments. See where that takes us…”
Speaking at the event were EFSA NDA panel chair, professor Albert Flynn, UK nutritionist, professor David Richardson, and Dutch probiotic researcher, professor Ger Rijkers.
The Alliance for Natural Health’s Adam Smith said his group’s campaigning against the 222-claim register and the regulation continued with the disproportionate and unclear scientific criteria being emphasised, along with the fact no impact assessment has been carried out
“MEPs are coming out of the woodwork – many for the first time – against this regulation and there remain two weeks before the vote. It’s going to be very close,” Smith said.