UK claims group closes as Europe takes over

The independent body responsible for assessing the validity of UK health claims has ceased operations in the wake of legislation that passed the baton to pan-European authorities.

The Joint Health Claims Initiative, consisting of UK food industry and consumer groups and enforcement authorities, was established in 2000 to provide "voluntary advice on the truthfulness of health claims" with the intention of creating a "level playing field for the food industry and enforcement and to increase consumer protection." JHCI approved five claims, the last being an omega-3/heart health claim in February, 2005. JHCI said "the new EU 'claims' Regulation for foods is about to supplant this area of activity."

The EU's Health and Nutrition Regulation comes into effect from July 1, at which point the European Commission and Member States will be charged with authorising health claims on the scientific advice of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which assumes the JHCI's former key role of assessing claims.

"I am delighted to have seen the organisation through to its natural conclusion," said Melanie Ruffell, the JHCI executive director. "JHCI was set up with a code of practice aimed at ensuring that health claims should not mislead consumers. This was always seen as an interim measure during the absence of specific legislation for health claims. Now that this legislation has been agreed, it is time to make way for the changes ahead. JHCI has been a pioneering initiative driven by three distinct groups with a common desire for rules on health claims, and has provided an effective model for collaboration."

She added: "The tripartite alliance has enabled JHCI to provide independent and reliable advice in the short term, and, in the long term, has helped set the future standard for health claims by approving claims and successfully operating the JHCI Code of Practice and Guidelines for Substantiation."

EU Member States are in the process of compiling an EU-wide list of claims that, if approved, will be adopted in 2010. JHCI has made its work available to the agencies carrying out this process.

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