Health claims rip off set to continue, says Which?Health claims announcements delayed

28 September 2010

Delay means consumers are kept guessing about health claims on food products

Consumers left in the dark

Shoppers won't know whether health claims being made on food products are scientifically proven or not, after the European Commission has announced it will delay publication of a list that states which claims can or can’t be made. 

This means that even though the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will continue to assess claims, shoppers won't know which are proven. This is particularly worrying give the huge amount of claims that have so far been rejected. 

Which? response

In response to the European Commission’s announcement, Which? Chief Executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, says:

“Consumers are being taken for a ride, needlessly paying a premium on the basis of health claims on food that have no scientific evidence to back them up.

“So far, an incredible 80 per cent of the health claims scientifically assessed have been rejected – this new timetable simply gives companies another nine months to bamboozle consumers, who will be left with no idea about which health claims they can trust.
“While no one anticipated the vast number of claims that would need assessment, this announcement goes completely against the consumer-focused intention behind the legislation.” 

Health claims history

Health claims are phrases like 'good for joints and bones' and 'for the healthy function of heart and brain' that appear on some products, particularly so-called 'functional foods' and health supplements. Currently, all claims made by manufacturers on products must not be misleading to the consumer under general food law, but they don't have to be scientifically proven before they go on the market. It has been left up to Trading Standards departments to work out the genuine from the bogus. 

In May 2006, following lobbying from Which?, among others, the EU passed regulation on nutrition and health claims to ensure that claims appearing on foods were scientifically proven. The idea was to put an end to misleading claims, so consumers don’t pay a premium for nothing.

The job of assessing these claims was given to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which has been looking at over 4,600 health claims. Nine hundred have been examined so far and about 80% have been rejected. 

The EFSA's opinions go to the European Commission and Member States for adoption or rejection and inclusion on an official list. This second stage that has been delayed until June 2011 at the earliest - and even longer for some types of food supplement - leaving consumers in the dark. This is even though EFSA has already given its opinion on the scientific assessment of hundreds of claims, most of which haven't been able to provide the scientific evidence to back them up.