Health claims infringe freedom of speech, says campaign group

Pressure group, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), has launched a vehement attack on the European Union's health-claims approval process, claiming it an "infringement of freedom of speech."

The not-for-profit body, which campaigns for access to safe and better nutrition in Europe, said the way in which the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was assessing claims under the EU Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation threatened to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" rather than protect consumers from false claims.

"The regulation is designed to protect the interests of consumers," said the UK-based ANH in a public statement. "It's meant to stop them being fed a diet of misleading misinformation. While it cannot be denied the food and supplement industry has entertained its fair share of cowboys, our concern is that the regulation goes so far as to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

"At the very point in time when consumers need the most information to help them make the right food and supplement choices to help them offset largely preventable chronic diseases, we see the industry being gagged. We regard this regulation as probably the greatest infringement of freedom of speech to impact the health-food industry anywhere in the world."

The ANH statement was released just days after the EFSA published opinions covering more than 500 claims that had been submitted for inclusion on the so-called Community List of 13.1 health claims that any company will be able make use of. Only around a third of the claims were given positive opinions, and most of these were long-established vitamins and minerals.

The ANH said it was concerned about the levels of evidence the EFSA was demanding before it would issue a positive opinion for an ingredient. "The graveyard of disallowed claims is not a pleasant place to be," it said. "The list of failed claims applications is seemingly endless, and it makes very disturbing reading when you see the level of proof that EFSA is relying on. If such a level of proof were used for drugs, most would not make it to market."

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