Food firms weigh up their options as final health claims rulings near

Decisions taken by food manufacturers over EU health claims regulations “are likely to shape the functional foods market for years to come”, predicts The Grocer.

To date, just 20% of 2,150 ‘general function’ claims assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), have been approved.

In a 7-page report into the impact on the functional food industry of the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR), the food industry weekly says that food firms are being forced to weigh up their options on claims quickly. EFSA’s final batch of claims rulings is due to be published this month and manufacturers have just six months to remove claims after a negative Opinion is given.

The article says that manufacturers essentially have four ways they can go — resubmit the claims with new or strengthened scientific evidence; give up the claim; find new ways to get their message across; or ‘go outside the jurisdiction’.

The magazine reports that many leading brands — it cites Kellogs Optiva and energy drinks brand Gatorade — are “moving away from making explicit claims” or switching to “visual devices and language that implies wellbeing”. Others, like Danone Activa, it  says, are “realigning their brands to reduce their reliance on claims”.

Resubmission of claims is likely in some cases, particularly where manufacturers are confident that initial claims rejections were due to “process failures” rather than lack of good quality scientific evidence. However, the article asserts that resubmission is less likely to be an option for smaller companies. The high costs and uncertain outcomes of preparing health claims submissions is also likely to curtail new product development in the hugely valuable functional food sector, it concludes.

One analyst told The Grocer that frustration may tempt some manufacturers to carry on making claims, but to do it outside the reach of European law. Owen Warnock, from the law firm Eversheds, told the magazine: “The internet makes that a lot easier than it used to be — so you can make sure you site your websites outside the EU and hope people will hear the rumour, see an article about it, find it on a Google search and buy the stuff.”