UK: Food For Thought: Nutrition And Health Claims

Last Updated: 24 September 2015
Article by John Cassels, Stefanie Greifeneder and Jessica Burns

This week, the spotlight is on key regulatory risk issues currently faced by companies in the food and drink sector.  Today we focus on nutrition and health claims.

EFSA consults on health claims guidance

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently updating and (it claims) simplifying its guidance for evaluating health claims to assist applicants in preparing and submitting their health claims for scientific evaluation.  In particular, the guidance will aim to give applicants an understanding of:

  • the general principles which the Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA Panel) applies to the scientific evaluation of health claims applications; and, 
  • the elements (scientific, administrative and procedural) which applicants should consider when compiling their applications.

The deadline for comments was 11 September.

Norway detects misuse of nutritional and health claims

The misleading use of nutritional and health claims on food labels is increasingly being targeted by authorities across Europe. 

In Norway, the Food Safety Authority recently conducted an audit on nutritional and health claims on labels of foods that are part of Norwegians' daily diets.  The food groups under scrutiny included baked goods, beverages, meat, grain products, dairy products, oil and margarine products, seafood, jams, nuts, snacks and sweets. 

Improper use of nutritional and health claims was uncovered in 133 out of the 263 products audited.  20% of the products were mislabelled with nutritional claims and 40% used an unapproved health claim, an approved health claim incorrectly or lacked the disclosures required with the use of health claims. Examples of misused claims included 'sugar free' or 'high in polyunsaturated fat'. 

The Authority commented that the results of the audit show just how complex the regulatory framework is for nutritional and health claims.  However, it also stressed that this is no excuse for non-compliance by business and intends to follow up with the businesses concerned individually.

Clarinol/Tonalin fat-busting claim rejected

EFSA has confirmed its opinion of December 2014 that BASG and Stepan Lipid were not entitled to make a weight-loss claim for their product marketed under the trade names Tonalin and Clarinol, which contributed to reduction in body fat mass.  In order to prove a health claim, three conditions must be met: the product must offer a physiological benefit, the food or component must be sufficiently characterised and the claim must be substantiated by scientific evidence. 

In EFSA's opinion, a reduction in body fat mass without weight loss was not considered to be a beneficial physiological effect.  

British Sugar's Truvia challenged

Following a complaint by a member of the public, British Sugar was pulled up by the UK's Advertising and Standards Agency (ASA) last week for including the wording 'natural deliciousness' and 'from nature for sweetness' in its UK advert for the sweetener, Truvia. 

According to the ASA, the claim that the sweetener was natural was misleading because Truvia contains Reb-A steviol glycosides, an extract from stevia leaf that is chemically processed, and also erythritol, a bulking agent which is synthetically made.

Truvia is produced by Cargill which entered into a partnership with British Sugar to sell it in the UK through the retail brand Silver Spoon.  It has been an expensive investment for Cargill, which settled a proposed class action law suit brought against it in the US in 2013 for misleading consumers.  It paid out over US$ 6 million.

If you would like to discuss any of these issues please do not hesitate to get in touch.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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