With the December 14 enforcement of the EU's article 13 general function health claim list that includes 200+ approved claims and about 1500 rejections just two days away (after a six month lay-period), we polled key players for core reactions.
The EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) has been criticised for its approach to nutrition science and marketing, but some welcome the claims certainty after so many years of ambiguity – restrictive as that certainty may be.
Coca-Cola: Welcome measures on harmonisation
Michele Kellerhals, PhD, R&D director in Functional Ingredients at Coca-Cola Europe: “The Coca-Cola Company welcomes measures on harmonisation of health claims contributing to responsible and transparent consumer communication. This date is the time when the regulation gets applicable and of course we are adhering to the new rules.”
“In fact, not all submitted claims have been finally included in the positive list, however we still believe that flexibility in meeting continuously changing consumer needs on choice, variety and functionality both from innovation and communication perspectives will be even more important for all parties in the future.”
ERNA: Differences of opinion
Catherine Mignot, chair, European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA): “One of the aims of this legislation is to create a uniform set of rules for the whole of the EU. Companies, however, are confronted with aspects that have not been clarified or that remain subject to differences of opinion among the member states.”
ERNA has produced a guidance to help companies understand the data gaps.
Horphag: No botanical progress forces blending advice
Victor Ferrari, CEO, French maritime pine extract supplier (Pyconegol), Horphag Research: “I don’t expect any progress because I think from the beginning the way they assessed botanicals [for which assessment is now on hold] and their value to the market was wrong. We are left with a situation where we are telling our customers to add vitamins and minerals with approved claims to their products in order to be safe.”
“We don’t know the circumstances under which we can file claims and we don’t know how long the grace period is going to be for botanicals. That’s why we have plenty of customers who already combine Pycnogenol with other vitamins and minerals.”
HFMA: Six months is not enough
UK Health Food Manufacturers' Association (HFMA): “Our industry has a serious issue with the 6-month deadline. In contrast, the two most recent examples of new legislation impacting our sector, the Regulation on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers and the Traditional Herbal and Medicinal Products Directive, very sensibly have 3-5 year and 7 year transition periods.”
“The 6-month transition period for this legislation is unfair because it disproportionately impacts an industry sector that has the majority of products legitimately carrying 2 to 3 years of shelf-life, unlike the mainstream food industry which has relatively short shelf-life products.”
View from Canada: Promised land?
Dr Gregor Reid, chair in Human Microbiology and Probiotics at Lawson Health Research Institute and director of the Canadian Research and Development Centre for Probiotics sent this missive about the term ‘probiotic’ becoming a prohibited health claim:
“By eradication of the term, what will the bureaucrats and paid advisers now do with their time if they have no organisation to report to? Sadly, the money saved from disbanding this failed Union will be needed to pay for the healthcare of the laid-off employees, a cost that will increase due to pharmaceutical failures and absence of probiotic foods.”
“Thankfully, I live in Canada, a country with sound bankers and lots of freely available, clinically proven probiotics. Europeans seeking probiotic foods are welcome to come live in our promised land.”
Ingredia: Innovation can increase now
Sandrine Cuisinier, marketing manager, French supplier, Ingredia: “The claims are not harmful, they are a tool for us to communicate with our customers. Now the guidelines are clear so we know and our customers know how to deal with the new rules. Now we know what we can do and the innovation can go on and increase now.”
Solvay: The game will be different from now on
Pascal Ronfard, nutrition programme manager, Belgian supplier, Solvay: “For Solvay and galactofructose it is a big change because we are approved. We have a feeling that the game will be different from now on as we have the gut health claims and the attached markets. It is changing many things for the industry.”
BEUC: Major step forward
Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC): “It is a huge week of change for European consumers. Unsubstantiated and misleading claims will finally disappear from the shelves. This helps avoid consumers being led to believe that a certain product has significant health advantages which don’t stand up to scrutiny. The EU has so far achieved high food safety standards, but marketers should present facts, not spurious claims.”
“The ball is now in the court of Europe’s food industry to be fully upfront. Only that way can consumer trust in all food products be restored.”
"However, much remains to be done. It is clear that using claims on food high in fat, salt or sugar like chocolate, sweets, and biscuits should not be allowed as it masks how unhealthy such products are. Adding a dose of vitamins or minerals – for which health claims are allowed – to a food which is high in fat or sugar will not make the product less unhealthy. This is why BEUC encourages legislators to urgently define nutrient profiles at EU level."
Consultant: The value of health claims is overrated
David Tournay, consultant and former part-owner of French supplier, Tournay Biotechnologies (now owned by Nexira): “The value of health claims is overrated. The industry became what it is today without any health claims. Even in France there approved health claims that nobody used. We had two claims on soy isoflavones that we proposed to customers and nobody even cared about that.”
“It took the cranberry health claim to get some attention for health claims but that has been banned now.”
Author: Caught in a self-created juggling act
Bert Schwitters, author, Health claims: Censored: “The European Commission seems to be caught in a self-created juggling act that gets more and more complicated with every step it takes in its progressive adoption of health claims.”
“Five years ago, food business operators submitted their Article 13.1 data to the authorities in their Member States. Since then, some of these claims were authorised, most claims were rejected and some were placed ‘on hold’ and are now awaiting rejection or authorisation.”
“It would be a blessing for all if the Court would place the legal force laid down in the Permitted List "on hold" by annulling Commission Regulation 432/2012 [the article 13 list].”
Claims consultancy: Be creative, move first
Cedric Bourges, founder, Nutraveris: “Standing out of the competition is going to take a lot more creativity. Of course, you may still work on the brand, the product, or on the distribution strategy. But to get real consumer loyalty, you have to bring them innovation, with truly perceptible health improvement.”
“That’s the direction the market seems to take, after a few months of ‘wait and see’. The best way to get ahead of the competition is obviously to move first. Companies should push this development toward getting EFSA approvals, fulfilling criteria of the scientific panel, to continue bringing innovative healthy products to Europe’s 500 million potential consumers.”