EFSA braces for health-claims flood

Agency insists that it is not under-resourced for the task

Europe: The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) — the agency charged with assessing the majority of thousands of health claims being submitted for European Union approval by member states — has hit back at criticism that it is so severely under-resourced it will have little chance of meeting the January 2010 deadline to process all submissions.

Senior press officer for science at the EFSA, Carola Sondermann, said with a January 2008 submission deadline fast approaching, the EFSA was preparing for the deluge of claim dossiers its critics say it will be unable to process in the available two-year window. An estimated 10,000 or more submissions could be heading the EFSA's way, with pan-European trade group, CIAA, already handing in 759.

"People are concerned because there are a lot of claims coming in and there is a huge workload ahead," Sondermann told Functional Ingredients. "But we have been preparing for this and are ready to organise accordingly by taking on extra staff and advisors. The situation is not unexpected and we are rising to meet it."

The EFSA has also been criticised for failing to clarify what data are required in scientific health-claims dossiers, a charge it says is unfair, as the burden for that clarification lies with the European Commission, on whose behalf the EFSA acts. "At any rate, the guidance was issued after full industry and government consultation, and by its very nature has to be broad, as the scope of claims it covers is very broad."

Sondermann said there was also confusion about a large number of claims that were not the EFSA's duty to adjudicate. These included the thousands of standard claims that were already permitted in various member states, a majority of which would not require further scientific verification.

She said the Parma, Italy-based agency with a 20-strong scientific advisory board, most of whom were volunteers from the academic world, was focusing on disease-reduction claims at present.

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