Life in a European health claims wasteland

Life in a European health claims wasteland

Related tags Health claims European union

Ka-CHING! Hear that? No it’s not the sound of overflowing cash registers as consumers throw endless wads of euros at scientifically-backed, healthy foods in greater numbers than ever before.

Rather, it’s the metallic snap of padlocks chaining the doors of food research laboratories across western Europe. No need for them any more.

Maybe they can be sold to the pharma industry – they may well need them as there’ll probably be a huge increase in demand for drugs now that a vast majority of nutrient and health relationships have turned out to be bogus. Zut!

Say what you like about the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) scientific methods – misguided, methodical, harsh, not-harsh-enough, unfathomable – but their effects are being felt right here, right now in the EU’s 27-member states. And that means reduced spending on supposedly healthy foods. Not to mention drastically reduced innovation.

The first opinions were written into the Official Journal of the European Union​ on October 21 and were followed up by another batch a week or so later. Negative opinions for the likes of omega-3s, probiotics, herbs and more are now law. In theory, local authorities will be able to prosecute companies breaching these laws in six months.

At least two companies: Red Bull (in regard to taurine) and Efamol (omega-3 supplements), have said they will not change their marketing because of negative opinions so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Of course positive opinions for the likes of plant sterols/stanols, vitamin D and calcium were also written into the register.

Time to see a (economic) shrink

In addition to the first opinions becoming law in October, the month kicked off with EFSA rejecting 70 per cent of 523 article 13.1 generic health claims. Bummer. For industry, October has been the cruellest month. And so to the effects.

What we are talking is reduced spending on research and development; on marketing; reduced spending by consumers. It means a smaller healthy foods industry in Europe; investments in other lands; the best minds of a nutrition research generation, lost.

We are talking billions of euros sucked from the economies of the EU.

Don’t believe me? Ask Barry Callebaut. Ask GAT Food Essentials. Ask Ocean Spray, Brudy Technology, Valio. Ask Clasado, Merck and Martek Biosciences. Ask Beneo-Orafti and DSM Nutritional Products. Ask Danone, Yakult, Danisco, Chr Hansen, Indena, Bio Serae, Naturex, Frutarom, Solbar, Lycored, Lallemand, Ingredia…I could go on…all have been affected by EFSA’s negative opinions.

These companies are trying to put a positive spin on events, talking about the process as a “learning experience”​ and the like, but the fact is concern at the situation has moved into overdrive. Concern has become EXTREME ANXIETY.

You only have to see a 17-page document​ like the one issued by three prominent EU-wide trade groups last week to see that.

For many years these companies and others, along with the trade associations they are members of, have been playing devil’s advocate, warning Europe’s 500 million citizens of the economic catastrophe that awaits if companies are unable to make health claims.

Well, those fears have become reality. They are not arriving, still something unformed on the horizon, some distant blip that may become threatening at some indiscriminate point in the future. They have filled the horizon, to some, looming spectre-like.

Time to come clean

Fair enough, I hear you say. There’s been about enough of this wool-pulling-over-the-eyes going on. It’s time these deceitful evil-doers were put to the sword or rational science – that was one of the aims of the regulation after all. If the science isn’t there, the science isn’t there.

(Another issue altogether and one which NutraIngredients’ science editor, Stephen Daniells, tackled last week. To see that article click here​.)

For the sceptical it’s ‘told-you-so’ time. Big Food has for too long been peddling countless forms of voodoo nutrition so it can lift billions of euros from the innocent, ill-informed pockets of 500 million gullible western European consumers (hell let’s include the kids too – health claims are for everybody!).

It’s a righteous thing that EFSA has ridden into health claims town on a big, shiny scientific horse of uber-logic carrying a huge health claims bashing, anti-fun jousting stick? Party’s over folks.

Oh no – not EFSA scientists! Boooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!! Quick close the door – maybe they’ll go away.

Of course they don’t go away. And they won’t go away. That’s why the talk of a legal challenge grows. Maybe this thing has got so convoluted only a high court of the land can sort it out and rethink the burdens of proof.

For now at least, as T.S. Eliot wrote in his early 20th century poem, ‘The Wasteland’, (which, as a common hack, I am near-obligated to reference since I have included the word ‘wasteland’ in my headline), it really is, “Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight” ​for hundreds and potentially thousands of health claims in Europe and all the investment that goes on around them.

Shane Starling is the editor of and looking forward to a lively discussion of the above issues at NutraIngredients Health Claims 2010​ at the Brussels Hilton on December 10. For more information and to register, please click here ​.

If you would like to comment on this article, please email shane.starling'at'

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