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Gut health experts show stomach for a fight

More than 100 global gut health scientists have pledged their support to a new campaign to make the European Union's health claims approval process "more clear and scientifically acceptable."

Three experts in gut health have set up a Web site, through which they are gathering wider backing from fellow experts as they seek to pressure the European Food Safety Authority into rethinking the way it is evaluating gut health claims under the Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation. EFSA is yet to approve a single claim for probiotics and gastrointestinal health but it has rejected scores.

At the time of writing, a total of 119 scientists from across the world had signed up to the campaign.

On the site, the trio – Ger Rijkers from the Netherlands, Stephan Bischoff from Germany and Bruno Pot from France – state: "Although we all encourage the use of the most strict scientific standards for judging health claims, there is a general feeling that when food is concerned, other criteria than strictly pharmaceutical should be used.

"One of the major obstacles is the regulatory ban on clinical endpoints, such as diarrhea, and the requirement of validated biomarkers and risk reduction factors. Regulatory issues thus would form an obstacle for research aimed at substantiation of the beneficial effects of pre- and probiotics. Therefore we believe that for pre- and probiotics, we need an amendment within the regulation to bring these points back within the scope that can and will be considered by EFSA through a broader mandate."

They add: "The availability of crystal clear guidelines will not only facilitate the design of research flows, it will also allow to make claim evaluation much more consistent, transparent and efficient. This in the benefit of all stakeholders, the producers, the scientific community involved, the EFSA committees involved and, above all, the European consumer.

"We all agree, however, that in the end any regulation, but certainly a health claims regulation on pre- and probiotics, as well as other food products, must make scientific sense. We hope that politics will pay attention to these matters and ask the Commission and [the Directorate General for Health and Consumer Policy] to take appropriate measures."

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