‘Probiotics’ term to go after December 14, 2012?

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

‘Probiotics’ term to go after December 14, 2012?

Related tags Health claims regulation Nutrition

The probiotics sector is at different stages of readiness, and embracing different approaches, to EU health claim laws that appear to rule the very word ‘probiotic’ a non-authorised, implied health claim from next month.

A scan of probiotic companies and ranges shows some, like Danone, have already taken the plunge and removed the word ‘probiotic from marketing for Actimel and Activia in most countries, while others like some smaller supplement firms seem barely aware they may soon be in contravention of the law.

Companies like supplements leader, Solgar, and Müller in the UK and Ireland are reviewing their marketing.

UK legal expert, Owen Warnock, from Eversheds, said European Commission advice showed probiotics and antioxidants and other food ingredient descriptors would be interpreted as implied health claims and subject to local enforcement action.

“The word ‘probiotic’ gives a hint of its functionalityand so, as the UK Department of Health has indicated, is likely to be interpreted as a non-authorised health claim and pursued by local authorities.”

A probiotic strain genus like Lactobacillus​ may be more likely to succeed in a purely compositional fashion.

The EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) states that a general descriptor is, “used to indicate a particularity of a class of foods or beverages which could imply an effect on human health”.

Since probiotics have not won health claims under the NHCR, they are deemed unauthorised implied claims as of December 14, when the six-month lay-period on about 1500 rejected claims expires. Only 222 claims have been approved.

Groups like the Global Alliance for Probiotics (GAP), the International Probiotics Association (IPA) and the Yoghurt and Live Fermented Milks Association (YLFMA) continue to lobby for acceptance of the term and work to win claims.

The YLFA hopes that the submission of new evidence to the central EU science agency may see approved probiotic claims in 2013.

Be bold

The UK Council for Responsible Nutrition executive secretary Julie Hayward said it was still not clear exactly what would happen come December 14, as there remained much that was open to interpretation.

But she forecast uneven policing from local trading standards teams that could compound issues regarding regulation of the regulation.

“But I would advise brand marketers to be bold,” ​she said. “Stay within the law, but be bold.”

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Are these the right questions to be asking?

Posted by Joseph Simmons - PRI Coordinator,

The Pharmabiotic Research Institute (PRI) is trying to address just such a problem - producers/suppliers such as yourselves have little or no recourse in the face of repeated EFSA rejections. I pose the two of you specifically, but more importantly the greater probiotics industry, the question: is EFSA the appropriate body for this issue? Is it in their mandate to regulate products that have therapeutic benefits?

If not, which body is appropriate?

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Legitimate alternatives

Posted by Martin Macouzet,

I understand that many companies commercializing probiotic products might be in a desperate situation as they consider that the term “probiotics” on labels was their last resource as they are not authorized to make any health claim. The person cited in this post says: “I would advise brand marketers to be bold”, but… what does that mean? I just hope they do not take it as an incitation to by-pass legislation with dubious practices as those already identified and analyzed by the Institute for the Development of Probiotic Food Products (www.idpf-idap.com). Instead, I invite all the concerned companies to adopt legitimate strategies for communicating health benefits in the absence of an approved health claim. To learn more consult the article from Probiotic Intelligentsia 1(2):15-27, titled: Alternatives for communicating the health benefits of probiotics http://www.idpf-idap.com/En-articles-1-2-2012.html

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An alternative name for probiotic bacteria

Posted by John Nichols,

Do NHCR suggest an alternative terminology that the general public would understand? Are we still allowed to use the term "friendly bacteria". Presumably "Health enhancing bacterial commensal" or "Symbiotic bacteria of gut" SPOG are not allowed either?

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