`European Commission Prepares to Ban Thousands of Unproved Health Claims - Olive Oil Times

European Commission Prepares to Ban Thousands of Unproved Health Claims

By Julie Butler
Aug. 6, 2011 21:16 UTC

Food mar­keters are on notice as the European Commission gears up to ban thou­sands of unproved health claims on food label­ing, includ­ing that olive oil has anti-inflam­ma­tory prop­er­ties or helps keep HDL cho­les­terol and blood pres­sure at nor­mal lev­els.

However, in what is seen as a sig­nif­i­cant excep­tion, it will be okay to claim that the polyphe­nols in olives have a ben­e­fi­cial anti-oxi­dant effect on LDL, the good” cho­les­terol. That was one of the just 22 per­cent of claims approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies.

After a mam­moth project with­out inter­na­tional prece­dent, EFSA last month pub­lished its final set of opin­ions on gen­eral func­tion’ health claims that may be made on labels. The European Commission is to present by the end of the year an offi­cial list, fol­lowed by a tran­si­tion period for the food sec­tor to adopt the changes.

In an effort to pro­tect European con­sumers and help them make more informed choices about their diet, since 2008 the panel has eval­u­ated 2,758 health claims. It is con­tin­u­ing to liaise with appli­cants over claims for which the ini­tial evi­dence failed to estab­lish a cause and effect rela­tion­ship.

Insufficient evi­dence of a cause and effect rela­tion­ship was the rea­son EFSA gave in April when it rejected the claims that olive polyphe­nols help main­tain nor­mal blood HDL cho­les­terol lev­els and help main­tain nor­mal blood pres­sure.

In rela­tion to claims that olive polyphe­nols con­tribute to upper res­pi­ra­tory tract health, can help to main­tain nor­mal gas­troin­testi­nal tract func­tion, and con­tribute to body defenses against exter­nal agents, the panel found in each of these cases that the claimed effect is gen­eral and non-spe­cific” and did not meet an E.C. require­ment that they refer to a spe­cific health claim.

As for olive polyphe­nols hav­ing anti-inflam­ma­tory prop­er­ties, the panel found this claim also fell short of E.C. reg­u­la­tions: The reduc­tion of inflam­ma­tion in the con­text of dis­eases such as osteoarthri­tis or rheuma­toid arthri­tis is a ther­a­peu­tic tar­get for the treat­ment of the dis­ease, and does not com­ply with the cri­te­ria laid down.”

The fact that it did, how­ever, allow the claim of pro­tec­tion of low den­sity lipopro­teins (LDL) par­ti­cles from oxida­tive dam­age was unex­pected, accord­ing to Stefanie Geiser, reg­u­la­tory affairs man­ager of the inter­na­tional food pol­icy con­sul­tancy EAS.

One sur­prise in the April batch, in light of EFSA’s trend so far, has been a first pos­i­tive opin­ion for an antiox­i­dant claim – on polyphe­nols from olive oil and the pro­tec­tion of lipids from oxida­tive dam­age,” said Geiser. Until then, EFSA had only issued pos­i­tive antiox­i­dant claims opin­ions for vit­a­mins and min­er­als,” she said.

Regarding the immi­nent new label­ing rules, Geiser said that com­pa­nies with rejected claims should be prepar­ing now to face the chal­lenge of hav­ing to develop alter­na­tive ways of mar­ket­ing and adver­tis­ing to com­mu­ni­cate health and other ben­e­fits of prod­ucts.” They should also adapt strate­gies to ben­e­fit as much as pos­si­ble from the approved claims, and explore new adver­tis­ing meth­ods for prod­ucts with ingre­di­ents for which claims have not been approved, she said.

The E.C.‘s goal is to estab­lish a set of per­mit­ted health claims that are accu­rate, truth­ful and sub­stan­ti­ated by sci­ence. EFSA defends its 80 per­cent rejec­tion rate on grounds includ­ing the poor qual­ity of back­ing infor­ma­tion. Information gaps included, for instance: the inabil­ity to iden­tify the spe­cific sub­stance on which the claim is based; the lack of evi­dence that the claimed effect is indeed ben­e­fi­cial to the main­te­nance or improve­ment of body func­tions; or the lack of pre­ci­sion regard­ing the health claim being made. In addi­tion, some claims were out­side the scope of the cur­rent legal frame­work,” it said.

However, Dr Alexander Schoch, man­ager for reg­u­la­tory affairs at the Beneo Institute, believes that EFSA’s require­ment for sig­nif­i­cant sci­en­tific agree­ment” on a health claim is too big a bar­rier for the vast major­ity of them. Instead, the sci­ence behind health claims should be cred­i­ble” — not nec­es­sar­ily gen­er­ally accepted”, he said.


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