Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a qualified health claim relating to the reduced risk of coronary heart disease, to be used on foods containing eiscosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
omega-3 fatty acids.
This is a significant step forward in informative labelling for consumers striving for a healthier lifestyle, even if the claim itself is a touch 'scientific'.
It reads: Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One serving of [Name of the food] provides [X] gram of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.
Use of the claim is, of course, subject to nutritional criteria of the final food product. But its introduction raises the question 'can we expect to see something similar in the European Union (EU)?'
Interestingly, omega-3 claims have made an appearance in the latest draft proposal from the European Commission for a regulation on nutrition and health claims, based on revisions suggested by the Member States during the first round of discussions. But this was published back in June 2004 and so, given that there is now a new Parliament which will re-scrutinise this proposal, a cautious note must be taken.
Nevertheless, this is a promising move. If it stands, it would mean that a nutritional claim relating to a food being a 'source of' or 'high in' omega-3 fatty acids will be permitted according to specific criteria. But unlike the US health claim, it will not permit a manufacturer to claim any benefit to reduction of risk of coronary heart disease.
To make this extension to the claim would require its approval as a health claim on the basis of there being substantial scientific data to support it (similar to the basis used in the US).
If this is submitted by a Member State, and approved by the European Food Safety Authority, it will become a generic claim available for use on all food products that comply with the specified criteria.
It's a step forward, and industry should be considering how to maximise the opportunity of making valid health claims in Europe in future.
Jean Feord, business manager for legislation, Leatherhead Food International. http://www.leatherheadfood.com