There is confusion over changes to European health and nutrition claims in food labelling, but the revisions create opportunities, argues law firm Pinsent Masons.
The biggest tweaks to Regulation 1924/2006 of the European Parliament and of the European Council allow manufacturers to state that consuming their products reduces the risk of certain diseases. Only drinks containing more than 1.2% alcohol cannot make such claims. Assertions that products can contribute to children's development and health are also permitted, although the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Commission (EC) must ratify both types of statement.
Other health claims can be made without formal authorisation, if they are based on generally accepted scientific evidence, easily understood by consumers and included on a generic EC list. Claims relating to prevention, treatment and cure continue to be outlawed. And claims about rate or amount of weight loss, endorsements by individuals or certain associations and claims that non-consumption could affect health are also barred.
Pinsent Masons' Sean Elson says it is worthwhile applying because new opportunities could help firms compete and strengthen product marketing.
"A lot will be determined by what the rest of the market is doing," says Elson. "I can't believe the process would be so bureaucratic and expensive that you wouldn't want to go through it."
No fixed timescale has been issued for authorising claims, so there is uncertainty about how long the process could take. UK applications should be made to the Food Standards Agency, which passes them to EFSA. The ensuing process could take 11-13 months, plus the time taken by the manufacturer to supply data if required.
Products launched or labelled before July 1 2007 can continue to make claims that do not comply with rule changes until July 31 2009.