Global ‘graded’ nutrition & health claim system needed: Review of 28 jurisdictions

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pre-approval should only be needed if 'false claims' could be damaging to consumers, say researchers
Pre-approval should only be needed if 'false claims' could be damaging to consumers, say researchers

Related tags: Health claims, Nutrition

A harmonised system of graded nutrition and health claims depending on the product and consumer impact would be ‘preferable’ to current global disparity, say researchers behind an international review of 28 different legislations.

The researchers from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands found “critical differences”​ between the 28 jurisdictions, which included the EU, US, China and Central America. They said strengths and weaknesses lay in each country’s system, but no “optimal”​ approach had been found.

The three most prominent differences were:

  • Labelling of different types of nutrition and health claims and their permission
  • Variations arising in the (pre-marketing) authorisation procedures
  • The use of the scientific minority opinion in substantiating claims

Writing in the journal Food Policy​, they said further research was needed on how consumers perceived claims, but added it would be preferable to permit similar types of claims throughout jurisdictions, permit the use of emerging evidence for claims having a lower probability to mislead consumers (as nutrition claims) and to require pre-marketing approval of claims with higher impact”. ​ 

These pre-approved claims could be assessed by the potential implications of ‘false claims’ on consumer health.

h claims

In creating such a harmonised international system, Codex Alimentarius Committee guidelines should be used as a basis – something used for draft regulation on nutrition and health claims in India.

“The efforts of the Codex Alimentarius Committee [a food policy standards body] to internationally harmonise the handling of nutrition and health claims should be leading in all developments and improvements of legislation, to stimulate work of the industry in the field of functional foods and to enhance the opportunity for consumers to use health-enhancing products,”​ they wrote.

Spot the difference

In all 28 jurisdictions nutrition claims were permitted. Differences lay though in nutrient function, other function and reduction of disease risk claims.

This legal differentiation between the types of claims was often lost on consumers, they said, which called into question whether such differentiations were needed.

Canadian legislation went beyond others by allowing the use of ‘therapeutic claims’ after pre-marketing review – although there had been no approvals of this kind so far. Therapeutic claims meant claims suggesting that the consumption of a nutrient was able to​ “treat or mitigate a disease or condition or restore or otherwise modify an existing function​”.


Source: Food Policy

“International legislation on nutrition and health claims”

Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.foodpol.2015.06.002

Authors:A. de Boer, A. Bast

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