The use of the term across Europe has been contentious since European authorities view it is an implied healthy claim since the official FAO/WHO definition denotes a health claim: “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”.
Despite such a stance, more European countries are moving to allow the use of the term, notably Spain, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria.
In France, the term “probiotic” may be used on food supplement labels together with the wording "contributes to the balance of the intestinal flora" so long as products meet certain conditions, such as a minimum number of living cells per daily dose, a position that is similar to the situation in Italy.
The announcement was welcomed by a number of stakeholders in the probiotics space, with Rosanna Pecere, executive director of IPA Europe, stating: “IPA together with IPA Europe working diligently in the European environment for probiotics, are happy to see the softening position for the use of the term, and also happy with the added use of the claim.”
George Paraskevakos, IPA Global’s executive director, added: “This initiative links to all the probiotic on-going work globally and segues nicely into the continuation of the harmonization proposal of probiotic regulations at Codex Alimentarius which is set to resume later this year.
“The European market has shown the biggest jump in growth from an online sales perspective in 2022, outstripping other region growth rates by close to 5% as reported by Ewa Hudson’s Lumina Intelligence. This further emphasises the thirst for probiotic products from consumers in Europe, and further underscores the importance of the work which IPA EU and IPA are conducting not only in Europe but also globally to promote quality, safety, and probiotics that provide benefits.
“We are hoping to see more countries in Europe to follow suit in the coming year,” said Paraskevakos.
Calls for harmonization
Adding his voice to the news, Dr Luis Gosálbez, Managing Director, Sandwalk Bioventures, said: “This is yet another important regulatory event for probiotics in Europe, which undoubtedly calls for an EU-wide regulation regarding the type of products in which the term may be used (ie. foods vs. food supplements vs. both), minimum CFUs per day and claims associated, as decisions made by individual Member States are not harmonized in these regards.”
Speaking at the 2022 Probiota conference in Copenhagen, Tanne Severin Holm of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, also called for more harmonization across the European bloc on the use of the term: “We still do not allow use for food, but we do allow it for food supplements,” she told attendees. “We are working to try and find a harmonised approach. Member states have different approaches, and the playing field has become disharmonised, but we feel an urgent need to find a unified approach.”