European court throws out botanicals complaint

Trade groups lose EU court battle against health claim regulation

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

Dutch trade group regrets that EU Court has not 'honoured' its serious and thoughtful request to review health claims
Dutch trade group regrets that EU Court has not 'honoured' its serious and thoughtful request to review health claims

Related tags: Health claims, European union

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has rejected a joint plea from the UK Health Food Manufacturers' Association (HFMA) and the Dutch NPN for the permitted health claims list regulation to be annulled.

The decision today came three years after the associations filed their case urging the European Commission to “go back and correct the flaws in its approach”.

The case focused on the processing of botanical health claims, which have been on hold for several years due to questions about the type of science necessary to prove efficacy. Several models have been proposed including a separate regulation which favours traditional use data over clinical intervention studies, but none have been formally backed as yet. About 2000 botanical health claim submissions are currently stuck in the backwaters of the EU food law books. 

 “This is disappointing news for industry and consumers as it represents a total failure by the European General Court to recognise and address much of what is wrong with the flawed implementation of this regulation.” ​said Robert Taylor, chair of the HFMA.

HFMA statement
Health Food Manufacturers' Association (HFMA) full statement 

“The HFMA and others took this legal action against the European Commission to halt the restrictive list of permitted health claims which effectively outlaws hundreds of well-established health claims on all foodstuffs including drinks, food supplements and foods. Just one example of hundreds of such claims is the failure to authorise the claim ‘dietary fibre helps maintain a healthy digestive system.”

 “The judgement represents a real missed opportunity to address a number of crucial issues and concerns, not least that of the Commission’s failure to meet the stated requirement that health claims should be 'well understood by the average consumer'. We are now reviewing the judgment in detail before deciding on further action.”

The groups said the permitted health claims list should not have been published before such substantial kinks had been ironed out meaning all health claims could be dealt with on equal terms.

They asked the court for an “integrative approach”​ to claims with one final permitted list, instead of the step-by-step processing of the thousands of health claims presented to the Commission by member states. 

Responding to the court’s rejection, the NPN (Gezondheidsproducten Nederland) said it regretted that the Court had not “honoured our serious and thoughtful request”.

NPN chair Mischa Strijder said: “The food supplement industry is an over-regulated area of the European market and the EU legislature’s control over health claims is overly prohibitive and restrictive.”​ 

However she said it was significant that the court had “explicitly acknowledged”​ that the Commission had good reason to place botanical claims on hold until a resolution on the discrepancies between the nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) and the Traditional Herbal Medicines Directive (THR) was found. 

Not giving up

Strijder urged the Commission to consider its previous suggestions on how to resolve the issue simply. 

“NPN will continue its efforts to have the claims regulation amended, so that, eventually, health claims and therapeutic claims based on traditional use will be treated equally in EU regulations.” 

Until then the group said this was likely to "remain a bone of contention" ​over which member states and industry lobby-groups would be fighting for years.

Earlier this year the NPN cut ties with the European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM)​, of which it was a founding member, because of differences of opinion on how to deal with ‘traditional health claims’.

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2 comments

Time to grow up and face the scientific facts

Posted by Ken,

Just as no one can rely on a given traditional use of plant for the treatment of anything to be more than belief, neither can one rely on claims that a product is backed by science without understanding and scrutinizing what that science is based upon. Unfortunately, the majority of consumers don't know the first thing about pharmacology, so the more scrutiny the better.

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Wise decision from the European Court

Posted by Mitch,

Hopefully, European Court maintains the regulation !
It is time to stop kinky health-marketing claims found for so many decades, especially on supplement food products.
This is is truely good news for the consumer !
Claims like 'dietary fiber helps maintain a healthy digestive system' makes no sense since science is still unable to describe what is a healthy digestive system.

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