EU health claims reg has immediate impact

Under the recently enacted health and nutrition claims regulation, food companies using terms like "superfoods" and "good for your heart" have only months to submit applications for their ongoing use to the European Food Safety Authority, although in some cases it could be considerably less time.

As companies within each Member State are required to submit applications through their national food agency, deadlines could be considerably shorter. This is the case in the UK where the Food Standards Agency has said it wants all dossiers by September 21 so that it has time to process them before handing them on to EFSA by the January 19, 2008, deadline.

"Previously the rules on claims have been very general, making it difficult for consumers to know what a term means and difficult for food companies (particularly smaller ones) to be sure they are not misleading the public," said the UK FSA. "In future, any claims made in relation to the nutrition and health benefits of a food will only be allowed if the claims are based on science, which has been verified by the EFSA."

A list of health claims that can be used on food products is being drawn up by the European Commission (EC). General claims about benefits to overall good health, such as 'healthy' or 'good for you,' won't be listed, but in future can only be used if accompanied by an appropriate claim from the approved list. This means that more general claims will be backed up by an explanation as to why the food is "healthy" or what makes it a "superfood."

To be eligible, claims must describe or refer to the role of a nutrient or other substance in growth, development and functions of the body, psychological and behavioural functions or satiety, slimming and weight control, and be accompanied by references to generally accepted scientific evidence and be well understood by the average consumer. For its part, the European Commission must establish nutrient profiles by 19 January 2009 and draw up a list of permitted health claims by 31 January, 2010.

In the US, the Food & Drug Administration is assessing its qualified claims procedures and has published an open document calling for public comment.

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