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Why does EFSA have a culture of indecision?

By Clare Cheney , 31-Jul-2012

The European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA's) working group on claims has turned down food firms' applications to make claims in relation to health benefits of microbial cultures. The question now arises: Do on-label statements of fact about the presence of bacterial cultures used in the manufacture constitute implied claims that might be forbidden? For example, would a statement on a yogurt label such as: 'contains live cultures of streptococcus thermophilus' constitute an implied health claim, even though the term 'probiotic' has been removed?

Clare Cheney

Clare Cheney

The strains of bacteria used determine the texture and flavours of types of yogurt. For example, a culture containing bifidus bacteria gives the mild flavour generally preferred by UK consumers. Thus the on-label information stating the culture helps choice by informing the consumer of the relationship between various strains of bacteria and the expected eating quality.

In this regard, the cultures characterise the final product even though yogurt, like cheese, is not required to have an ingredients list for the yogurt itself. If fruit or other ingredients are added, however, these must be declared.

If it was decided that information about the bacterial content constituted an implied claim and should therefore be disallowed, what implications might there be for other foods containing ingredients that have been associated with perceived health benefits but for which claims are similarly not permitted, either because applications were rejected by EFSA or because no applications were made in the first place?

Take chocolate. EFSA considered an application for a claim that cocoa in chocolate was a major source of antioxidants and helped to maintain normal blood pressure. Sadly, it did not agree. However, the press reports are bound to continue to the extent that they become the reality.

Because legislation requires that chocolate has to be declared in the ingredients list, unlike bacterial cultures in yogurts, it could not also be deemed to be an implied health claim. That would be ridiculous. By that logic, every time the press came up with another story about the healthiness of a food, all foods containing that ingredient would then have to be deemed to be making an implied claim by default.

What is the situation where a fruit with known health benefits, such as lemon, is mentioned in the ingredient list of, say, a cake? The mention could be deemed to be an implied health claim, and that would clearly be nonsense.

Why is EFSA is taking so long to decide on this question?

Clare Cheney
Director general
Provision Trade Federation
clare.cheney@provtrade.co.uk

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