Special edition: Botanicals

EU's ongoing botanicals battle: ‘Consumers need more information’

By Chris Whitehouse

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Health claims European union

CHC: "...there is a very real risk that consumers will be prevented from being informed about the beneficial effects of thousands of popular botanical food products and supplements."
CHC: "...there is a very real risk that consumers will be prevented from being informed about the beneficial effects of thousands of popular botanical food products and supplements."
The European Union botanicals sector has been in limbo since 2010 when 2078 botanical health claim applications were placed on hold as the European Commission bowed to pressure to reconsider the scientific criteria for their validation. With no end to the legal limbo, Chris Whitehouse, director of strategy at UK group Consumers for Health Choice (CHC), assesses the plantscape and reiterates CHC’s commitment to freedom of consumer information.

Implementation of the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR) has been one of the main issues affecting the European food and nutrition sector in the last few years.

The process of assessing more than 44,000 claims submitted by the EU’s 27 (now 28 with Croatia’s accession this year) member states has been long, arduous and controversial, lasting several years and resulting in a final list of only 222 authorised claims, with a few more being added in the last few months.

The legislation implementing this list of authorised claims only became applicable in December 2012, more than six years after the adoption of the NHCR in 2006.

Controversy about the correct implementation of the legislation continues, but it is clear that the information which consumers can find on the labels of food products, including dietary supplements, has been severely limited.  The implementation of this legislation has seen many health claims disappearing from the labels of hundreds of popular and well-known food products, since they are not on the list of claims approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).


The herbal conundrum

While a couple of claims have been approved via other avenues of the NHCR recently, strikingly, no botanical ingredients are present on this article 13.1 list, as the Commission decided back in 2010 that their assessment should be suspended, with no deadline for the final assessment in sight.

This is clearly a thorny issue for EU policy makers tasked with solving the problem of the overlap between botanical claims for food supplements and botanical medicines under the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD).

Given the current legal framework and assessment process, the assessment of botanical health claims could lead to the paradoxical situation in which, in order to be authorised, health claims for botanical products sold as food supplements would need to undergo a stricter assessment process than that of a similar medicinal claim used in a product sold as a herbal medicine, based only on its traditional use. The most probable result of taking such an approach would be the rejection of the great majority of botanical claims submitted for assessment.

Commission officials and member states have been discussing potential ways out of this conundrum. Suggestions have been made that the scope of the legislation should be reassessed to allow traditional use data to be taken into account for the substantiation of claims.

In addition, some EU member states have suggested alternative solutions focusing on the development of harmonised legislation which would prioritise safety and quality over claims.

The Italian Government has already indicated that it will use its Presidency in the second half of 2014 to make progress in this area and it seems highly unlikely that a definitive solution will be reached in the short term.

In the meantime, health claims for botanical ingredients continue to be used on labels, but there is a very real risk that consumers will be prevented from being informed about the beneficial effects of thousands of popular botanical food products and supplements.

More is more..

As an independent consumer organisation dedicated to fighting for individual rights and freedom of choice in health matters, Consumers for Health Choice​ believe consumers have the right to access a wide range of natural health care products including vitamin and mineral supplements, herbal remedies, fish oils and other health foods.  

CHC believe that consumers need more information about the food they consume, not less, and will continue to make its case robustly in the UK and in Europe, including through the Save Our Supplements campaign that focuses on preventing EU plans to force through the banning of higher-potency vitamins and mineral supplements. 

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1 comment

Chinese medicine

Posted by roger cole,

How will any of this help to prevent the extinction of species that are killed for medicines that have no validity? I am thinking of the Western Black Rhino recently declared extinct.

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