Italy has indicated it will write the list into law in July, with France and Belgium set to follow.
German representatives also expressed support for the project, based on national lists in the three countries with input from a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) compendium that raises potential issues for about 900 herbals.
The European Commission’s Basil Mathioudakis also attended the meeting that may speed stalled EU-level harmonisation work around health claims and permitted substances.
The BELFRIT project, as it is called, was conceived at a meeting among plant science experts involved in the €6m EU-funded PlantLibra initiative, which is building a plant food science database, assessing safety and use and developing risk-benefit models.
Luca Bucchini, the managing director of Hylobates Consulting in Rome, was at the meeting and told us yesterday’s congress had been, “very good for the cause of botanicals.”
“The harmonised list is similar to EFSA's compendium with the same experts that have worked on EFSA's working group working with BELFRIT,” Bucchini said.
“It was particularly welcome that Germany's Hartmut Waltner expressed appreciation for BELFRIT and, prodded by Basil Mathioudakis, indicated that Germany may be open to consider harmonised European legislation on botanicals that would prioritise safety and quality over claims.”
The move comes whilst botanical health claims are on hold at EU level, as the EC and member states deliberate what kind of science is appropriate to demonstrate their nutritional benefits.
About 1500 such claims were withdrawn from the nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) assessment process in September 2010 after some fierce lobbying from the sector that insisted the existing scientific protocols would significantly damage the industry by wiping out almost all claims.
The use of traditional use data
It may be years before a new approach is agreed upon, with the main issue being how to treat traditional use evidence, which is currently carries little sway with EFSA’s health claims panel.
“Several member states have asked EFSA to further assess the safety of botanicals, given that its earlier guidance on the safety of botanicals has not worked in practice,” said Bucchini.
“It remains to be seen how EFSA will respond to this request, and how they will combine modern risk assessment methodologies, the tradition-centric approach of BELFRIT, and emerging science from research, such as that of PlantLibra.”
He added: “Overall, it is difficult to predict if a compromise among member states will be found, and when. Italy has promised to use next year's EU presidency to make further progress in this area. Frustration with mutual recognition has been expressed by officials present, as setting the lowest consumer protection standard, and this may spur action.”
The BELFRIT project was discussed at a botanical claims congress in Brussels yesterday, where legal experts and scientists picked over the treatment of botanicals under the NHCR, with one lawyer suggesting the EU approach may be in contravention of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
Check NutraIngredients for more on that next week.