European food authority outlines position on food health claims

Posted by James Ferre on 2nd October 2009

The European Food Safety Authority has published its first series of opinions on the list of ‘general function’ health claims compiled by Member States and the European Commission, finding that two-thirds were currently unsubstantiated.

Experts on EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) evaluated the scientific evidence for more than 500 claims, with the opinions to help inform future decisions of the European Commission and Member States concerning the authorisation of health claims.

The opinions provide scientific advice on 523 health claims relating to over 200 foods and food components such as vitamins and minerals, fibre, fats, carbohydrates, ‘probiotic’ bacteria, and botanical substances. For approximately one third of the claims the outcomes of the evaluations were favourable as there was sufficient scientific evidence to support the claims. These related mainly to functions of vitamins and minerals, and also included dietary fibres, and fatty acids for maintenance of cholesterol levels, and sugar-free chewing gum for maintenance of dental health.

Almost half of the evaluations with unfavourable outcomes were owing to a lack of information on the substance on which the claim is based, for example ‘probiotic’ bacteria and botanical substances. Without clear identification of the substance in question, the Panel could not verify that the scientific evidence provided to EFSA related to the same substance for which the health benefits are claimed.

“EFSA’s independent scientific advice will help ensure that the health claims made on foods are accurate and helpful to consumers in making healthy diet choices,” Professor Albert Flynn, Chair of EFSA’s NDA Panel, stated. “The scientific opinions will inform future decisions of the Commission and Member States concerning the authorisation of health claims.”

EFSA has convened a meeting with experts from Member States and the European Commission on 6 October 2009 in Brussels to discuss the evaluation of the ‘general function’ claims.

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