The European Commission is considering stricter regulations for health claims on functional foods. The EC is working towards a more standardized approach to enhanced food products. A pre-market approval system currently under discussion has caused an outcry from British food manufacturers. But such a system may not be an entirely bad thing for the industry: it could well serve to boost sales.

Regulations on health claims are far from harmonized throughout the European Union. The European Commission is considering a number of changes to bring member countries in line with each other, worrying food manufacturers in some regions. Tougher regulatory requirements may be a hindrance to firms wishing to make an impact in the industry.

One of the options under discussion is a system for approving all functional foods and their claims before they reach the market. Currently, in countries such as the UK, food manufacturers do not have to gain pre-market approval. Instead, companies making unjustified claims are at risk of penalties from trading standards authorities.

British manufacturers claim that a stricter system is unnecessary and would creates delays and disincentives for the launch of new products. However, the Advertising Standards Authority has recently found several companies guilty of making inappropriate and misleading health claims, undermining the argument that self-regulation is sufficient.

The functional food market is large and growing, as consumers attempt to improve their health through minor dietary changes. Take probiotic yogurts, for example, which are now worth in the region of $350 million a year in Europe alone. The margins are high and the potential rewards of entering the functional food market are extremely tempting. While there have also been several high profile flops, such as Kellogg’s Ensemble line of enhanced pasta and cereals and Novartis’ Aviva functional drinks, cereal bars and biscuits, there is still a lot of interest.

The introduction of stricter regulations may not be an entirely bad thing for the food industry. The positive effect of an FDA ruling acknowledging that Benecol margarine can cut cholesterol shows that consumer faith in medicinal benefits can make a major impact on the bottom line. If the European Commission does opt for pre-market proof the public may well have more confidence in all food claims, making the chance of a truly beneficial product being successful that much higher.

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To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Functional Foods: A World Survey

Functional Food Markets, Innovation and Prospects – A global analysis

Functional Foods Report 2001