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Italy proposes €500 fines for prohibited health claims: “Cheaper to violate than comply”

By Shane Starling , 17-Dec-2012

Promotional blank? Probiotic marketing remains - for the moment at least
Promotional blank? Probiotic marketing remains - for the moment at least

As attention turns to the enforcement of the EU’s controversial article 13, general function health claims list after a six month waiting period, an expert on the ground in Italy says the country’s policies will encourage law breaking.

Fines as low as €500 offered little incentive to adhere to the law, he said.

Across Europe, a scan of product websites indicated widespread abuse of now-prohibited claims from probiotics to antioxidants.

The EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) is interpreted and written into national legislatures and must be enforced by local agencies.

“Trend not to enforce”

In Italy, consultant Luca Bucchini PhD, the managing director of Hylobates Consulting, said Italy’s version of NHCR laws stipulated fines of between €500 and €10,000 for the use of prohibited health claims.

Basically, it sets fines so low – even for TV ads – that it's more cost-efficient to violate the regulation rather than comply with it, and part of a trend by unhappy member states not to enforce in meaningful terms the regulation,” Bucchini told us today.

“I don't think it's generally in the right direction at all.”

Probiotic compliance

Big probiotic players like Danone and Yakult have long ago complied with the NHCR to bring their marketing into a more visual mode, or to focus on probiotic strains to avoid making explicit prohibited claims or even to use the barred term ‘probiotic’, now deemed - like 'prebiotic' - an implied health claim.

No sign of 'probiotics' here on the Yakult UK homepage

But websites of smaller players seen by NutraIngredients today showed widespread use of ‘probiotic’.

A spokesperson for one probiotic firm said the company was putting in place a plan to become compliant but had to date focused on relabeling and reworking marketing campaigns.

“We are not ignoring it but there is also a sense of wanting to wait and see what happens with enforcement,” the spokesperson said, and wondered if enforcement would begin with a warning letter.

“It is difficult and expensive to have to have to change marketing like this when consumers have known about probiotics for so long."

Probiotic marketing continues on this webpgae...

Other supplement manufacturer and retailer websites making claims around banned antioxidants and carotenoids remained live.

“75 years of scientific research experience”

Yakult emphasised its scientific pedigree in the wake of the passing of the December 14 health claims deadline.

“Yakult has over 75 years of scientific research experience and has many scientific studies with positive results. Yakult received approval from the Dutch Code of Practice on health claims and we have obtained health claims in Japan, China, Taiwan and Brazil.”

“The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) did not provide a positive opinion about the dossier submitted so far by Yakult. Yakult continues its efforts and we are confident we will have a health claim under the new legislative procedure.”

Ambroise Martin, PhD, the head of EFSA’s health claims panel has said he expects probiotics can win EU health claims in 1-2 years. 

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