Last June, the Yoghurt & Live Fermented Milks Association (YLFA), together with the Italian dairy association (Assolatte) and the Italian supplements association (AIIPA), applied to the European Commission’s (EC’s) health and consumer directorate DG Sanco and other EU Member States (MSs) for approval to use probiotic as generic descriptor in Italy. The application was based on the fact that the general descriptive term ‘probiotic’ had been used in Italy for over 20 years.
DG Sanco announced in November 2014 that the application could proceed, following the receipt of no objections. Only Portugal and Denmark had asked for some clarification about the application.
It now waits to hear whether it has been successful in achieving derogation from the Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation (NHCR). On December 14 2012, the NHCR banned the use of the term ‘contains probiotic’ from packaging in the EU, since it was considered to constitute an unapproved health claim rather than a nutrition claim.
The YLFA application will now involve discussion by the EU’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH), which represents the EC and MSs. There is no formal deadline for issuing a final opinion and it will be determined by what SCoFCAH believes is “the urgency of the matter”.
If Italy is successful, the UK could well follow its lead and seek approval for use of the term ‘probiotic’, getting an extension of the derogation as a ‘concerned Member State’. Probiotic yogurt firms selling in the UK are believed to be looking at this option. “While we’re in regular contact with the YLFA as the application progresses, the really big issue for the Provision Trade Federation [PTF] would be around criteria for its responsible use should the probiotics generic descriptor be approved,” said PTF director general Terry Jones.
‘Not only technical, but also political’
“The interpretation that the term ‘probiotic’ is a health claim is based on assumptions that have never been documented,” said Carine Lambert, secretary general of YLFA International. “So, any decision regarding the generic descriptor approach is not only technical but also political. Many MSs favour a harmonised solution at EU level.”
Lambert accepted that this application would not resolve the main hurdle, which is the absence of health claims on probiotics, “but at least it may lead to a recognition of the existence of the probiotic category”, she added, and “will at least provoke a debate between the stakeholders … not only on the use of the term probiotic but also about the criteria for eligibility for being considered probiotic”.
“The [probiotics] industry will continue working on science and health claim dossiers for the recognition of the health benefit of probiotics,” said Lambert.