Studying food manufacturers’ health claims
Since 2008, the EU has examined 2,578 advertising health claims on various processed foods, but only 510 or 1 out of 5 could be scientifically proven!
"Reduces hunger", "reinforces bone density", "boosts memory"... So many questionable, or even false health claims will not be permitted in European advertising and packaging of commercial food for much longer.
4,637 health claims submitted to the EFSA
L'EFSA (European Food Safety Agency) received more that 4,600 health claims to examine between July 2008 and March 2010. However, 331 were “spontaneously” withdrawn by their manufacturers, while some 1,548 concerned plant-based products to be examined at a later date.
And so, the EFSA experts evaluated whether the 2,758 remaining advertising claims were based on a solid scientific basis. According to Prof Albert Flynn, president of the EFSA scientific group, the evaluations were carrying out in “a systematic and objective manner, applying the highest of scientific norms.”
Advertising claims for food products supposedly acting on weight, cardiac function, circulation etc. were examined, focusing on:
- Vitamins and mineral content
- Specific nutritional fibre in relation to control of blood sugar, cholesterol or weight control
- Living cultures in yogurt and lactose digestion
- Antioxidant and polyphenol effects in olive oil
- Nuts in relation to improvements in vein function
- Meal replacements and weight control
- Fatty acids and heart function
- The role of a number of sugar substitutes (such as xylitol and sorbitol) in the maintenance of tooth mineralisation or the reduction of blood sugar after meals
- Drinks containing carbohydrates/electrolytes and creatine in relation to sporting performances
80 % of health claims rejected by the experts
Most of the time, the promises made on food packaging didn’t live up to scientific scrutiny. For example, when a product affirms that it “reinforces immunity,” studies should have been carried out to prove that regular consumers of the given product have fewer infections than non-consumers. Ditto for bone density, weight, cholesterol etc. And yet, such studies were often lacking, carried out in poor conditions, or on a too-small number of people etc. – and so they were rejected by the European experts.
Another motive for rejection was the lack of information identifying the actual substance on which the health claim was based. For example, claims about "probiotics" or "a nutritional fibre" didn’t mention the bacteria or particular fibre in question.
Imprecisions surrounding claims of – energy, vitality, drainage, mental energy – were also singled out by the experts, as well as claims making reference to overly broad food categories, such as, “fruit and vegetables” or “dairy products”.
However, 1 out of 5 products did come out of the study with the alleged health claims scientifically proven, with real health benefits.
On the road to a new European regulation
For the moment, the results of this examination by the EFSA are only indicative and food manufacturers are not yet obliged to remove the offending advertising and labels. However, medications and dietary supplements are already submitted to such constraints (verification of efficacy and advertising). This study should thus result in a new European regulation, which in 2012 or 2013 will constrain food manufacturers to withdraw those non-proven health claims from packaging and advertising.
Such a measure will be more than welcome for enhanced food products, as mind-boggling health claims are constantly sprouting up on supermarket shelves, not to mention the advertising, which disorients, and can even lead European consumers towards dietary error.
Source: "EFSA finalises the assessment of ‘general function’ health claims," press release July 2011
Copyright © 2011 Doctissimo
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