39 complaints. 0 actions: UK health claims enforcement is a “mockery”, study finds

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Health claims, European union

Boots Detox 5-day Plan has been discontinued but not due to Trading Standards enforcement
Boots Detox 5-day Plan has been discontinued but not due to Trading Standards enforcement
The UK’s 220 Trading Standards (TS) agencies are failing to take action against products making ‘spurious’ health claims, a local charity has found after testing the system.

HealthWatch lodged 39 separate complaints at the TS Consumer Direct complaints portal that sparked 13 TS agencies into action about three food supplement products making what it said were unsubstantiated claims.

There was not a single prosecution for a bodily toxicity reducing supplement, a seaweed extract that delivered breast cancer risk reduction and a shark cartilage-immunity product, found researchers led by the British biologist and consultant, Les Rose.

"It makes a total mockery of the law,"​ Rose said of the activity. The survey was published in Medico-Legal Journal.

“By failing to prosecute traders for making false health claims, Trading Standards officers misinterpret the currently available law. This means that the UK government has failed to comply with the EU law under the Directive 2005/29/EC. This justifies a formal complaint to the European Commission.”

That 2005 European Union Directive relates to Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading, which was transposed into British law in 2008. It states that traders must not falsely claim that, “a product is able to cure illnesses, dysfunction or malformations”.


However, health claim validation has largely passed under the 2006 EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR), where many claims remain under consideration, a bone of contention for Rose, if not TS.

“Correspondence from one TS office agrees that the CPR official guidance from the OFT requires TS to enforce the CPR (Consumer Protection Regulations), and that ‘all appropriate means’ shall be used for this,”​ Rose and his fellow researchers wrote.

“The officer stated: “In my opinion, the ‘most appropriate means’ in this matter are the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulations 2007.”This argument appears logically flawed, in that TS agrees that this legislation is unsatisfactory while claims are being evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).”

“The EFSA is currently evaluating thousands of claims for ingredients, and while a particular claim has yet to be evaluated, TS officers take the view that it cannot be challenged.”

The researchers said changes may come in the form of a fixed-penalty pilot scheme being implemented by the UK Office of Fair Trading.

Rose told NutraIngredients that, “a much bigger study”​ was being planned with products such as ‘healing’ magnets and crystals that could not be regarded as foods.

The three products in question were Boots Detox 5-day Plan (which Boots has now discontinued); World Wide Shopping Mall’s Health Aid Shark Cartilage and Bohemia Style’s Easy Diet Red Seaweed Dietary Supplement.

The researchers said TS took an average of 13 days to acknowledge receipt of complaints, and that 22% received no acknowledgement. Only Boots responded by voluntarily discounting its product and amending its website. Another downgraded its claims.

Source: Medico-Legal Journal

March, 2012. 00 (0): 1–6. DOI: 10.1258/mlj.2011.011034

‘Spurious Claims for Health-care Products: An Experimental Approach to Evaluating Current UK Legislation and its Implementation’

Authors: Leslie B Rose, Paul Posadzki, Edzard Ernst

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