Brussels, 28 July 2011 – European consumers have the right to know whether some food products which claim to have beneficial impact on their health actually have such effect. The European Commission will present by the end of the year a list of permitted health claims on food products for all substances other than the so-called "botanicals," after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published today a sixth and final set of opinions on the matter.
The Commission welcomes the publication of the sixth set covering 35 health claims on food products (also known as "Article 13 claims"). This publication marks the conclusion of EFSA’s assessment which started in October 2009 (IP/10/1176).
"Ensuring accurate and reliable information on food labels is key to help consumers make healthier choices and strengthen their empowerment," Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said. "The assessment process, conducted by EFSA so far, is a vital step towards the implementation of the health claims Regulation and I thank EFSA for its valuable input to this difficult and challenging task that has no precedent anywhere else in the world," he added. "Now our priority is to adopt, as soon as possible, the list of permitted Article 13 claims," Commissioner Dalli concluded.
Read the full European Commission press release
Read further details in the full EFSA press release. However, some of the main reasons why experts issued unfavourable opinions, in cases where the information provided did not allow a relationship between the food and the claimed effect to be established, are listed below:
- lack of information to identify the substance on which the claim is based (for example, claims on “probiotics”, or on “dietary fibre” without specifying the particular fibre);
- lack of evidence that the claimed effect is indeed beneficial to the maintenance or improvement of the functions of the body (for example, food with “antioxidant properties” and claims on renal “water elimination”);
- lack of precision regarding the health claim being made (for example, claims referring to terms such as “energy” and “vitality”, or claims on women’s health or mental energy);
- lack of human studies with reliable measures of the claimed health benefit;
- claims referring to food categories which were considered to be too broad, such as “fruits and vegetables” and “dairy products” to be linked to specific effects.
With the release of the final batch of opinions, EFSA has completed the assessment process for so-called Article 13 health claims, with the exception of botanicals. The European Commission (EC) put a hold on EFSA completing the assessment of health claims for botanicals under pressure from Member States, because of the number of negative opinions emerging. The EC stated, “Out of the 4,637 claims submitted to EFSA by the European Commission between July 2008 and March 2010, the European Commission asked EFSA to evaluate 2,758 claims by June 2011, 331 claims were withdrawn and 1,548 claims on “botanicals” have been placed on hold by the Commission pending further consideration on how to proceed with these”. EFSA will now resume looking at 1,548 botanical health claims, but no date has yet been set for completion of this task.
Since EFSA has rejected 80% of all health claims, a proportion that approaches 100% for the botanicals so far assessed, release of the ‘community list’ will be a dark day for the natural products industry. Not only will any health claims not on the list become illegal overnight, when made in relation to commercial products, but many of the approved claims are so broad as to be meaningless – thereby ushering in a nearly claims-free environment that serves, in direct opposition to the stated intention of the Regulation, to further confuse consumers.
With products able to be distinguished only in the most superficial and vague terms, choosing genuinely effective products will become considerably more difficult. The health claims element of NHCR is meant to remove false, misleading and ambiguous health claims, but the reality is that it will do nothing of the sort and put consumers into an even more confused state. Many claims will be disallowed entirely and some that are allowed will not be strictly science-based, such as vitamin and mineral claims triggered at 15% of their respective recommended daily allowances.
While this may not present such a problem immediately, bearing in mind how knowledgeable many consumers of natural healthcare products have become in recent years, this store of knowledge will inevitably be eroded under the new regime, and finally lost. And maybe that’s the idea.
The NHCR represents nothing less than the greatest threat to free speech in natural healthcare, ever. We foresee a bonanza for lawyers as companies turn to the courts for redress, and cases challenging the NHCR itself may even be forthcoming. ANH-Intl will, as usual, be at the forefront both of keeping you informed and of progressing positive change.