Issues currently under discussion in the European Commission Working Group on nutrition and health claims include:
Views on Draft Annex to a Regulation authorising Article 13 health claims on hold
The Commission has put forward a new version for discussion. Caffeine claims have been removed and the Commission is to ask the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to look at safety, so for now they remain on hold. Conditions for use for claims about omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) include new text which would apply if used on food supplements or fortified foods: it would require information to the consumer not to exceed a supplemental daily intake of 5g EPA and DHA combined.
Views on generic descriptors
A working document on elements to take into account when establishing rules for derogation in accordance with Article 1(4) of Regulation 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods. The Commission said it is not accepting applications for generic descriptors (GDs) at present because no rules have been agreed; however, it is keen to agree rules as soon as possible.
There was discussion about how to understand what a generic descriptor (GD) is. According to Article 1(3) of the NHCR, GDs could imply an effect on health so it was agreed to be important that consumers understand that they won’t get any health benefit that may be implied by a GD. However, since the purpose is not to allow the use of misleading claims it would be important for applicants to provide evidence of how consumers currently perceive potential generic descriptors and that they do not expect a health benefit from consuming the product. MS would have to determine the understanding of the average consumer in its country
Since a generic descriptor may not have been traditionally used in all MS, and could be understood differently in different places, it was questioned whether derogations would apply in all MS or only in those in which a GD had been used. Since the NHCR is harmonising legislation and aims to facilitate the internal market, it may be that derogations for generic descriptors must apply in all MS. However it would then be necessary to ensure that in MS where there is no traditional use, consumers are not misled, perhaps by requiring a GD to be used in its original language.
Where a GD is used widely, food business operators (FBOs) may need to cooperate to make an application and MS may need to co-operate too and it was felt the procedure used for further assessment of health claims could be a useful model. On this point, the Commission said that the NHCR requires an application to come from an FBO but that trade associations could be involved as the person authorised to communicate with the Commission on behalf of an applicant.
Implied health claims
There was a discussion about whether a picture or graphic symbol used in food labelling (e.g. a picture of an eye on a food supplement containing lutein) would be an Article 10(3) health claim and so would need to be accompanied by an authorised, specific health claim from the list of Article 13 or 14 health claims. There was general agreement that this was the correct interpretation. There was also a reminder that such pictures or symbols must not engender fear in consumers (Article 3(e) of 1924/2006).
There was discussion on the use of words like ‘immunovitamins’ and ‘immunominerals’, as used in the phrase “Immunonutrients (A, C, iron, and zinc) are important minerals and vitamins which contribute to the correct function of the immune system”. The Working Group’s view was that such terms are confusing because they are not proper words and are not associated with authorised health claims. Some participants felt that these made-up terms imply non-specific health claims which could be used if accompanied by relevant authorised claims.
The next Working Group meeting is provisionally set for 18 February.
There is no further information as yet as to how the Commission intends that the review of botanical claims be conducted, so they remain ‘on hold’.