Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The EU teaches the world what to do about health claims.

In a word?


I'm loving the coverage of the European Union's decision to actually ensure that health claims made on the front of packages meet rigorous scientific criteria.

The excellent, but understandably biased industry newsletters Food Navigator and Nutraingredients have been following the issue carefully and recently wrote of how the industry is watching with bated breath to see if the rest of the world picks up on what the EU's figured out - most health claims are overblown to the point of being dangerous.

You see the Times UK published a lengthy piece on the EU's new stricter approach to health claims and they framed it in terms of an expose of claims calling them out for what too many of them really are - exercises in overblown, pseudo-scientific hyperbole.

Nutraingredients when commenting on the Times piece had this to say,

"Industry will be hoping they don’t spread beyond the shores of Britain as they have massive potential to dent consumer confidence in healthy foods and healthy food messaging"
Nutraingredients felt the news piece was a one-sided report and the comments below their piece from some titans of the food industry seemed to agree. They suggest that the regulation was put in place to,
"stamp out unjustified health claims by the rogue elements of the industry"
I guess he was referring to "rogue" folks like the Beneo Orafti Corporation that has offices in Europe, Asia, North America and South America with distribution in 63 countries whose claim that one of their ingredients was "bone stiffening" was rejected by the new regulation, or Ocean Spray whose rejected claim was for cranberry juice protecting women against urinary tract infections, or Unilever whose claim that drinking their black tea would make you more alert. Those crazy multi-national multi-billion dollar rogue companies are messing things up for everyone!

Perhaps my favourite piece from Nutraingredients came last Thursday when a podcast was included detailing how the 2006 EU nutrition and health claims regulation is "putting the brakes on the commissiong of trials to back health claims". It's my favourite piece because of this quote from C├ędric Bourges-Sevenier, PhD, general manager at French science and regulatory Big Food consultancy, Nutraveris,
"Everybody is thinking about their generic list with probably many ingredients which won't pass the test and now they're facing what they should do and the strategic advice is not easy and the good solution would be to make clinical trials to ask for a new health claim but it's a lot of money, it's not easy to design the right study and I believe industry will now be disappointed about what they should do or not and I believe that if there are too many bad opinions whether the file is good or not they will very certainly go back and maybe doing nothing"
Yes, how dare those Draconian EU health police actually suggest that before launching a supplement with a fantastical claim a company actually will have to prove the claim's truthful. According to Dr. Bourges-Sevenier for industry it apparently will be too difficult and too expensive to design such studies and therefore industry will most likely "do nothing".

Yup Dr. Bourges-Sevenier, Unilever's literally 18 billion Euros of profit couldn't possibly help them design or pay for a study to prove their various health claims. Gosh for that you'd probably need the world's largest brain trust and at least, at least, 50 trillion Euros.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what happens if we don't care (like the States for instance) - this: