Since no probiotic has yet won a health claim under the EU nutrition and health claim regulation (NHCR), monikers like ‘probiotic’ are banned in marketing and promotional materials to consumers, although there has been some debate about terms like ‘live cultures’.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) issued a statement to clarify its position on the matter.
“Stating ‘contains probiotic’ (or similar) on a product is not the same as saying ‘contains ingredient X’,” FSAI said.
“It is more than just mentioning the product contains bacteria. It implies that the product contains a substance that may be beneficial for health. Anything that states, suggests or implies a relationship between food and health can be considered to be a health claim. For this reason, the term ‘probiotic’, when used on a food label, is considered to be a health claim.”
The agency added: “Any terms that imply probiotic activity (i.e. imply that the bacteria in the product may be beneficial for health) are health claims and are not permitted.”
”For example if terms like ‘live’ or ‘active’ are used to describe bacteria, these imply a probiotic function and therefore are considered to be health claims. No health claims have been approved for ‘probiotic’ and therefore terms that imply a probiotic function are not permitted.”
Strain names are ok
But FSAI said individual probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus were permitted.
"Under food law the name of the microorganism culture(s) the product contains is not required to be listed on the label but manufacturers can choose to give this information voluntarily."
It adopted the same 'implied' position for prebiotics, which have also failed to win digestive, immunity or other health claims.
While the EU's science agency has so far failed to back pre- and probiotic health claims, Switzerland, which is not an EU member state, recently issued a number of approvals for probiotic category leader, Danone.
Other claim submissions remain in the EU health claims system, awaiting assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).