The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has expressed doubt about the effectiveness of probiotic drinks and yoghurts in aiding consumers’ digestion.

In a series of opinions published yesterday (19 October), EFSA assessed more than 800 health claims from food companies. The claims included assertions that probiotic bacteria strains boost the immune system and reduce gut problems.

However, EFSA’s independent panel of scientists found no “cause and effect relationship” had been established between the consumption of the strains Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus plantarum in maintaining immune defences.

In a separate ruling, the panel examined a dossier of 12 studies submitted by Yakult for its own strain of probiotic bacteria, Lactobacillus casei shirota. The panel found that all were “inadequate” to support the company’s claim that its products maintained immune defences against the common cold.

The opinions are the latest in a series of rulings by EFSA, which has already published five opinions on claims relating to probiotics.

In October last year, a number of health claims for ‘probiotic’ drinks and yoghurts were rejected by Europe’s food safety watchdog in its first assessment.

Since then, the EU has rejected Danone‘s claim that immunofortis, an ingredient added to its baby formula products, strengthens babies’ immune systems. Danone also withdrew two scientific health benefit claims for its Activia and Actimel products months later.

EFSA said it is organising a series of consultations on specific topics to provide additional guidance to applicants, the first of which will be held on 2 December 2010. It will focus on health claims related to gut and immune functions.

It will finalise the evaluations of all ‘general function’ health claims by the end of June 2011.