UK joins crack down on questionable food claims

The UK advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority, (ASA) has followed in the footsteps of the Food & Drug Administration, by pulling up two companies over their labelling statements.

It found an omega-3 fortified milk and a cholesterol-lowering margarine were making claims deemed to be inappropriate and asked the companies to remove the offending claims.

Although the ASA is a voluntary organisation, and their verdicts not legally binding, both offending companies — Dairy Crest and Unilever — complied.

The action comes not long after the FDA told Masterfoods in the US that the marketing for its CocoaVia sterols-fortified chocolate bars was inappropriate and needed to be amended. Masterfoods has been issued a deadline in which to respond.

The UK adverts involved Dairy Crest's St Ivel Advance omega-3 milk and Unilever's Flora Pro-Activ cholesterol-lowering spread.

An advertisement for Flora Pro-Activ margarine was headlined as 'a spread that not only lowers cholesterol but also helps keep blood vessels healthy.' While the ASA accepted the claim was not a medicinal one, it said the wording implied the positive effect on blood vessel health was distinct from that of cholesterol lowering, and in this sense was misleading.

The two St Ivel Advance print adverts promoted the brain function benefits of children consuming Dairy Crest's St Ivel Advance milk. However, the ASA found its claims, and references to a particular study where high-dosage supplements had benefited children with learning and behavioural problems, could not be substantiated, given the omega-3 dose in the milk.

Under pan-European health and nutrition claims regulation that may come into force by year's end, claims such as these will have to be pre-approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

"Innovative and product-specific claims will have to go through EFSA before they are allowed on shelves," noted Melanie Ruffell, executive director of the UK's independent health claims assessment body, the Joint Health Claims Initiative. "Other claims will be drawn from a central registry of generic EFSA approved claims."

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