Nutrition and health claims in practice

Judy ButtrissJudith Buttriss, Director General at the British Nutrition Foundation (UK) describes progress with implementation of the EU nutrition and health claims process, which covers all foods, drinks and dietary supplements sold in the EU and was established to ensure that any claims about the nutritional or health attributes of products are substantiated by robust scientific evidence and can be relied upon by consumers. Other aims of the legislation have been to harmonize approaches across member states and to protect innovation within Europe-based businesses, almost all of which are SMEs.

The article discusses a number of issues that have emerged over time. The EU Register of Nutrition and Health Claims includes more than 250 authorised health claims. Determining wording of claims to ensure both scientific rigour and consumer understanding has proved challenging in a number of cases, examples of which are provided, and there are calls for a more level playing field as enforcement is currently country-specific. Also considered is the health claims process from the perspective of SMEs, focusing on the work of the EU-funded project – BACCHUS, and highlighting that cost including investment in research, timescale and complexity of the process are the major barriers for European SMEs with products that might be eligible to carry a health claim.

The European Commission’s (EC) Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (Regulation No. 1924/2006; EC 2007) came into force in 2007. It aims to ensure that claims used in Europe are scientifically valid, harmonise claims made across the European Union (EU), provide useful and reliable information for consumers, and protect innovation in the food industry. However, questions remain as to whether the regulation is stimulating the type of innovation that will deliver health benefits to consumers.

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Highlights:

  1. Use of authorised health claims, particularly by European SMEs, is limited by a lack of easily understood guidance, uncertainties about implementation of a nutrient profiling system, cost and the communication challenges once health claims have been authorised.
  2. A Best Practice Guide developed within BACCHUS is available to help SMEs understand the opportunities afforded by the Regulation and the steps that need to be taken to gain authorisation for a new claim.