Blog: Dean BestCould some health claims win a reprieve from the EU?

Dean Best | 1 December 2011

Ah, the EU health claims process. Few issues have proved as complex to understand and frustrating for parts of the food industry. In July, after three years of study, the EU's food safety watchdog announced it had rejected 80% of claims. Some in the industry have long criticised the process. However, for a few companies, there could be a second chance to convince officials.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is expecting to be asked to re-evaluate up to 200 food health claims that it rejected over the last three years, we reported today (1 December).

The European Commission and member states have asked EFSA to take a second look at some of the rejected claims after lobbying from the companies concerned. Some of the manufacturers said they now have extra information that support their claim.

Meanwhile, there is a meeting scheduled for Monday that could formally approve 240 of the 550 claims that EFSA has already said are valid. There is a chance, however, that a vote on the claims due at the meeting of the EU Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health could be postponed until 2012 - which would mean Brussels misses its target of agreeing the claims this year.

The latter point will raise a wry smile from some within the industry and other critics of the health claims process. Manufacturers and academics have critcised the level of science that has been needed to get the claims through, while some have even questioned the competency of people within EFSA.

As you'd expect, at this week's Food Ingredients Europe exhibition in Paris, which closed today, the EU health claims process was a topic many had a view on.

Doug Brown, global marketing manager for dairy within DSM's nutritional products division, works for a food ingredients giant that enjoyed some success in the EU health claims process. In September, EFSA confirmed DSM's claim that vitamin D reduces the risk of falls and fractures in the elderly.

Speaking to just-food at the Food Ingredients Europe expo in Paris, Brown was supportive of the intention of the process but had some constructive criticism. "The burden on proof is on you and that's a good thing," he said, adding that EFSA had been successful in creating a level playing field in which manufacturers had to submit claims.

However, he said the regulatory hurdles were "high" and he questioned whether the process had fully considered the needs of consumers. "How closely aligned it is with what consumers want I'm not sure," Brown said.

The DSM executive reiterated that there were good intentions behind the process but emphasised the need for collaboration. "A high bar protects consumers. If it's too high, it harms consumers."

Brown's comments were fair and balanced, especially compared to some manufacturers that have hit out at the process in the past.

Indeed, some stakeholders believe the food industry has been too critical. Jens Bleiel, CEO of Food for Health Ireland, a research organisation funded by the Irish government and some of the country's leading food makers, including Glanbia and Kerry Group, needs to focus on making its claims more robust to meet the EU's criteria.

"The food industry should stop moaning about EFSA. The industry needs to get their act together and produce good science," Bleiel told just-food.

Few subjects have caused as much debate as the EU health claims process, that's for sure.


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