Is EFSA's health claims 'helpdesk' too little, too late?

Is EFSA's health claims 'helpdesk' too little, too late?

The European Health and Safety Authority plans to open a 'help desk' to give natural products companies help and feedback on the process of submitting dossiers for assessment of health claims. Whether this will mollify industry remains to be seen; the years-long claims-assessment process is already mostly complete and there was bitter criticism of EFSA throughout over vague and changing standards that led to the rejection of the overwhelming majority of health claims applications.

The European Food Safety Authority is to open an ‘applications helpdesk’ in what looks like a bid to address anger at the lack of engagement between manufacturers submitting health claims for approval and the scientists assessing them.

Announcing the initiative, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, executive director of the agency said: “EFSA’s work on general function health claims has highlighted the importance of constructive dialogue between risk assessors, scientists, decision-makers and stakeholders and has contributed to our thinking on the future shape of our organization. As a result, EFSA plans to launch an applications helpdesk to facilitate dialogue with applicants.

“By ensuring that there is a shared understanding of the scientific evidence required, the work we have undertaken will, we trust, support the work of industry by helping to establish future directions for research and innovation.”

Whether the move will placate the industry is a moot point, and many will want to find out the precise role of the helpdesk – and its limitations – before making a judgment. EFSA has now finished assessing Article 13.1 general function claims, but the agency’s scientists will continue to assess claims backed by new evidence under the Article 13.5 and Article 14 procedures, providing ample opportunity for applicants to put the helpdesk to the test.

Move purports to address longstanding complaints

Manufacturers have been complaining almost non-stop for some time now about the lack of any opportunity for health claims applicants and EFSA’s NDA panel, which is assessing claims under the EU’s Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation, to discuss the contents of a dossier before it is submitted and while it is being assessed.

Most claims submitted so far under the regulation have received negative opinions from the NDA panel, and many companies have protested that they weren’t able to address flaws in their dossiers until it was too late, only discovering that their evidence had failed to make the grade when the EFSA opinion was published.

Plans for the helpdesk were revealed as EFSA published a final mini-batch of Article 13.1 general function health claims, comprising five opinions on 35 health claims. Announcing the end of the often controversial Article 13.1 assessment process, Albert Flynn, chair of the NDA panel, delivered a final retort to the many people who have criticized the agency’s approach to assessing claims as being too strict.

“This very challenging task was completed thanks to the dedication and commitment of the experts on the NDA panel in collaboration with EFSA staff, who have had to cope with an unprecedented and unforeseen workload, coupled with very tight deadlines and often poor information,” he said.

“Despite these challenges our experts have assessed the claims consistently and fairly to the highest possible scientific standards.”

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