Calls for recognition of the probiotics market and a more harmonised approach to it within European law were delivered to Members of European Parliament yesterday (7th November) in the form of a joint statement from the industry.
The document – signed by the International Probiotics Association (IPA) Europe, the European Federation of Health Products Manufacturers Associations (EPHM) and the European Dairy Association (EDA) – calls for meaningful consumer information on probiotics in the European Union and urges that a ‘viable solution’ is found to allow the use of generic terms.
“In 2006, the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR, EC 1924/2006) was welcomed by the probiotic industry and other stakeholders alike. However, more than 10 years after the entry into force of NHCR, over 300 individual probiotic health claim submissions have been rejected or withdrawn and no sensible or workable EU framework exists for the use of the term probiotic on labelling and commercial communications,” said the statement.
“The industry continues to support the NHCR in its objectives of achieving harmonisation, clarity and consumer protection, but in our view recognising the probiotic category and ensuring consumer protection are not mutually exclusive goals, they are perfectly compatible.”
What the joint statement asks for:
• It urges EU Member States to find a viable solution within the EU Single Market that would allow the probiotic industry to use a generic, traditional denomination that meaningfully expresses the nature of these foodstuffs and is recognised and used widely around the world.
• Calls on the European Commission to adopt a coherent and formal harmonised European approach, consistent with the spirit and the letter of the NHCR, to ensure that this class of ingredients can continue to be produced and effectively marketed within our European Single Market.
It argues that such a move requires acceptance of a distinction between what probiotics ‘are’ as a category, how probiotics function, and what the specific health claims that may be associated with different probiotics functions are.
“The probiotic sector feels strongly that the time to act is now,” urges the joint statement.
Mixed messages and ‘mutual recognition’
The calls also note that individual EU countries already have different approaches to the labelling of probiotics and probiotic foods – adding that labelling and wording is accepted in some countries but not others, and some countries do not apply the principle of “mutual recognition”.
“Deprived of appropriate information on probiotics, consumers are confused and seek out information from the internet and other uncontrolled sources,” it said. “This is not a good risk management policy and seriously undermines the integrity of the industry.”
Furthermore, it argues that in the absence of ‘probiotic’ labelling on foods there has been a ‘worrying development’ in the growth of non-food products using probiotic messaging and references to positive effects on the gut, which adds to consumer confusion.
Furthermore, it notes that clause 17 of the EU Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers (FIC, EU 1169/2011) states that: “The prime consideration for requiring mandatory food information should be to enable consumers to identify and make appropriate use of a food and to make choices that suit their individual dietary needs.”
However, the current situation does not allow this to happen in the case of probiotics in food and food supplements.
The IPA Europe said it has already issued ‘criteria’ on what on what constitutes a probiotic microorganism in food, including food supplements in 2015.
Part of this criteria covered the safety/quality, labelling and efficacy aspects, based on a recognised list of strains.
“Therefore, the industry recommends that the term ‘probiotic’ should only be used to describe microorganisms when a certain combination of requirements is met,” said the statement. “The use of the term would then not require a specific authorisation, as long as no reference to any specific health effect is made.”
“IPA Europe is actively working on obtaining recognition for the probiotic category and contends that the acceptance of the probiotic category as a nutrition claim is one of the possible solutions to resolving the current impasse for probiotics in the EU, whilst leaving the door open for individual probiotic health claims.”