Thursday, February 09, 2012

What a World Without Ridiculous Front of Package Health Claims Would Look Like

Here in Canada (and to a lesser degree since the class action lawsuit in the United States), Danone's all about health claims. Inferred health claims, overt health claims, the bottom line it would seem is that according to Danone Canada, their yogurt's basically medicinal.

Fly across the Atlantic to Europe and it's a completely different story. You see in Europe, the standard for making health claims is different that here in Canada. First off, in Europe you can't put a claim on a food's packaging until AFTER it's been approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Secondly, the claims better be supported by substantial human research with quantifiable outcomes.

As far as Danone goes, they've now twice removed their immunity claims for Actimel (Danactive here in Canada) and their gut claims for Activia from consideration, as removing them from consideration is better than a "NO". They keep saying they don't understand the process well enough to submit their dossiers - a claim I'd certainly believe the first time around, but have a tougher time swallowing the second.

My thought is that while indeed Danone has done more real science on their ingredients than possibly any other food manufacturer, that the data, although suggestive, isn't yet conclusive and hence not sufficient.

So what's triggered this post? An article in industry friendly e-zine with some quotes from some Danone folks.
"The European Union's uber-strict health claims regime may this year deliver a barren, claimless landscape to the world's biggest selling functional food category"
The horror!

So what does that mean?

Instead of the ridiculous packaging for Actimel (Danactive) that we have here in Canada and seen up above, we'll get this "barren, claimless" European version:

And then suddenly, instead of selling claims about immunity that Danone themselves feels are not scientifically rigorous to pass muster over in Europe, they'll have to just sell yogurt.

A guy can dream, can't he?

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  1. Oh my goodness, truth in advertising. What a concept!

  2. Rebecca8:44 am

    How about putting the TRUTH on the labels? "Made from milk from cows treated by rBST", "Made from genetically modifed corn," etc.? A girl can dream, too...

  3. Anonymous9:07 am

    This is why we have celebrity endorsements to fall back on....

  4. Being an Brit living in the US I continue to be amazed at how much effort goes into de-regulation and allowing corporations 'freedom' to.. yep, create jobs.. because regulation is what is causing the US to have high employment. Unfortunately a good 40% of the population agrees. What they continue to forget is how those corporations will screw them 7 different ways from Sunday if given the chance..

    Financial meltdown in 2008 anyone? How is that deregulation in the financial section working out for people?

    I love the regulations they have in Europe and how corporations are racked over the coal for false advertising and how they have to prove their claims.

  5. There are no laws to force corporations to put that it came from GMO's or other such information because they spend millions lobbying politicians. When the people are not given the information to make informed decisions because the corporations do not want people to avoid their products, then you have a huge issue.. and it is one that is difficult to change.

  6. Alexie10:00 am

    I live in Germany and love, love, love the truth-in-labelling laws. It means you can trust the product. If it says 'banana baby food', then it's 99% bananas with some pectin or something to keep it fresh. If food had any colouring or preservative in it, that has to be indicated on a restaurant menu, with a great big asterisk. It means I don't have to have a PhD in chemistry just to eat. I don't need to be 'educated' about food, which is the constant public health mantra elsewherre. If something's selling as food, then it's food and I can eat it.

    Whereas when I go to the UK, I have to turn over every sandwich for sale, every packet (and everything comes in a packet, even veggies), and squint at the label. What I find, again and again, is that something that looks innocuous, isn't.

    What's also interesting is that in a world where food is food, there is little of the tiresome point scoring that goes on elsewhere about 'clean' eating or choosing to eat organic. You don't get social points for eating real food, because everybody does it.

  7. Did you know that NPR has a Food blog that regularly talks about the "obesity epidemic"?
    I found it at
    Today's entry talks about offering smaller portions to restaurant patrons.
    I haven't read every blog entry yet, but my impression is that I am in agreement with some posts and not with others. If you haven't seen it you might want to take a look.

  8. Anonymous10:48 am

    I ignore all those claims because I figure anything I buy could be labeled like that -

    lemons - prevent scurvy!!
    (works, too)

  9. You know what would be the best thing for restaurants to do and which they would hate? Add the calorie information on the menu. I found this to be amazing when I was in New York and loved it. Can you imagine the education people would get when they see their main meal is 1700 calories..

  10. Advertisers will try anything if they can get away with it. It's all about the bottom line. Personally, I wouldn't mind missing the advertising aspect, but I would miss the colors (advertising too, but I don't mind).

  11. I grew up in Europe and saw numerous time the Danone Actimel ad on TV. It is presented as a medical supplement, and they list all the health benefits from their product consumption. There might be laws about labeling on food packaging, but there is nothing about BS in ads on TV. Just saying.

  12. empressmitzi3:45 pm

    I view those kind of claims on food labels like white noise, meaning something to tune out. Ever since the oat bran craze of the late '80s (anyone else here old enough to remember that? it was the miracle ingredient that would make corn chips and doughnuts good for you!) I assume any health claims on food products -- no cholesterol! low carb! boosts immunity! and so on -- are marketing bumpf and treat it accordingly.

  13. What an interesting point! So many valid points are made that I had no idea actually existed in the food industry. Little did I know that food labels could be so deceiving! It does in fact explain a lot though about the food industry and the consumption by Americans. I cannot even begin to describe how many people I have seen buy a certain product just because of what it says on the label (i.e. Diet Coke/Pepsi). I know, I for one, will think twice when buying certain products that claim that they are “healthy”.
    This food label dilemma connects directly back to the clever point made by Michael Pollan in “Out of the kitchen, Onto the Couch”. The post above hints towards the fact that cooking from home is much safer, cooking from scratch. Just as Pollan makes the point that cooking from scratch is going out of business, and is the right decision, this post brings up another additional point to cook from scratch; buying products from the store can be hazardless and misleading. This post from Freedhoff even touches on a subject that Julie Guthman slightly mentioned in “The Food Police”; stronger food label laws are a reasonable proposed social solution that can help to fend off the obesity epidemic.
    I cannot agree more with what Freedhoff posted, and I am only thankful for finding such an interesting and thought provoking post!