The European Food Safety Authority has pledged to improve lines of communication with companies submitting health claims for approval.
The promise was made after a meeting with food and drink businesses and their representatives on 15 June to discuss the evaluation of claims under the EU's Nutrition and Health Claims process.
It was the first real opportunity companies had been given to discuss the troubled approvals process with EFSA's panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies (NDA panel), which is sifting through thousands of claims.
Following the meeting, EFSA said it had decided to "further develop procedures for communication with applicants while claims are being evaluated, including greater use of the 'stop the clock' procedure when NDA experts consider it necessary to request additional information regarding an application."
It added: "This will help ensure that there is a shared, mutual understanding between the panel and the applicant of the claim to be evaluated prior to adoption of the final opinion. The NDA panel may request supplementary information from applicants to clarify in particular the object of the claim (eg whether it relates to a component of the foodstuff or the product itself) or the claimed health relationship.
"Up to now, these issues would be addressed with applicants only before the application was accepted by EFSA and before evaluation started. Experience has shown that some of these questions only become apparent during the assessment of the application and this can have a significant bearing on the evaluation."
Professor Albert Flynn, chair of EFSA's NDA panel said: "This has been a very successful public consultation on EFSA's evaluation of health claims. Our discussions with industry on guidance and new communications procedures will help applicants for the authorisation of claims and will also benefit the overall efficiency of EFSA's evaluation process."
But there was dissatisfaction in the industry that there had not been the opportunity to discuss the process of evaluating the more than 4,000 Article 13.1 claims submitted for inclusion on the Community List. The meeting was held to discuss Article 13.5 claims (those involving new science or proprietary evidence) and Article 14 claims (those involving disease risk reduction or children's health) only.
Just ahead of the event, which took place in Brussels, the European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers, the European Responsible Nutrition Alliance and the European Botanical Forum had issued a joint statement expressing "regret that the EFSA technical meeting with stakeholders of June 15 is not scheduled to address article 13.1 claims issues."
Meanwhile, EFSA said it would publish a revised version of its draft 'Frequently Asked Questions' document, which contains guidance on the health claims approval process, in the autumn after it had considered industry comments on the text. EFSA said: "This is a living document which will be updated regularly in the light of experience gained."
For full analysis of the 15 June meeting, don't miss the next issue of Functional Ingredients magazine, published in July.