EU health-claims deadline passes, but uncertainty remains

Sheer volume of submissions and unclear criteria increase doubts

Europe After years of parliamentary and committee-level flip-flopping, one of the most debated pieces of European Union (EU) food legislation has reached a significant milestone: the passing of the deadline for the submission of claims under the EU Nutrition and Health Claims regulation. Despite the milestone, some fear that uncertainty regarding the criteria being used to validate claims submissions may place too much power in the hands of Europe's regulators and scientific committees.

Belgium-based European Responsible Nutrition Alliance secretary general, Patrick Coppens, said the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) should come clean about the standards it will employ when assessing the claims dossiers. "If they are going to throw out all dossiers that don't include human intervention trials then there are going to be an awful lot of claims — particularly in the area of herbal products and functional foods — that will be rejected outright,? he told Functional Ingredients. "That is what is frustrating about the process — the criteria has not been clearly defined. The EFSA has the power to crush the functional-foods sector if it wishes.?

While noting the significance of the deadline being reached, Coppens wondered about the mammoth claims-processing task that lay ahead, and the logistical nightmare it could become. "The claims are in now, so the attention turns to the EFSA and the EC to see how they will be dealt with,? he said. "With the UK and Germany submitting more than 5,000 claims between them, and the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries in the EU 750-plus, there is bound to be a lot of duplication, so it is difficult to predict how many the EFSA will have to decide upon. But it is going to be a huge number and it is difficult to see how the EFSA is going to be able to do it in the allotted time. It is an almost impossible task and it wouldn't surprise me if the deadline is broken. We always said it was ambitious.?

UK Food Standards Agency (FSA)spokesperson, Sarah May said, "We have submitted more than 2,000 claims for further consideration. Several of the claims we received were duplicates. It's important to note that the final decision lies with the EU on what claims will appear on the final list.? The UK FSA rejected more than 500 claims submitted to it on grounds of duplication or 'insufficient' information to meet the EFSA's published, if not completely transparent, requirements.

It is expected the EC will scrutinise the submissions, compiling a list that weeds out duplicate and obviously weak claims. The remaining claims — which could total 10,000 — will then be forwarded to the EFSA for further scrutiny.

An EFSA spokesperson told Fi the Italian-based agency was recruiting extra staff to cope with the workload. It is charged with passing delivering scientific verdicts on the dossiers and returning them to the EC, so that a central-claims register can be formulated before the January 31, 2010, deadline in just under two years.

FSA information about the process and the claims it submitted:

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