Regulation stifles innovation as firms walk claims tightrope

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Health claims New product development European commission European union

Risk-averse firms are loath to commit to New Product development in uncertain climate

Regulatory uncertainty is now proving a bigger barrier to innovation in healthy foods than the weak economy, according to leading ingredients suppliers.

Beneo Group has pumped millions of euros into scientific research to explore the benefits of ingredients including inulin, oligofructose and isomaltulose in recent years.

However, many manufacturers are unwilling to commit resources to new product development projects using these ingredients until there is clarity over which, if any, health claims they would be allowed to make in Europe, said Beneo Orafti marketing and communication manager Tim Van der Schraelen. "The problem is not just about the health claims assessment process and whether claims will be approved or not, it's the lack of clarity over the timetable [for implementation of the EU health claims Regulation]."

He added: "We can't even tell customers when the European Food Safety Authority will judge our claims, and there is also confusion over transition periods and whether approved claims should be adopted by the European Commission (EC) in batches or all in one go."

While claims should be supported by sound science, he said, the fact so few had made the grade was worrying. "Longer term, I think this is really going to damage innovation in Europe. It's also bad for consumers because they want innovation in healthy foods, but manufacturers are becoming even more conservative and risk averse because of this Regulation."

Meanwhile, the EC has confirmed that no further progress has been made on establishing the nutrient profiling system that will define the conditions under which health claims can be made. A spokeswoman from the EC said: "There is nothing new on this front. It will now depend on the new Commissioner exactly how things proceed."

The marketing manager at one leading supplier, which makes bioactive ingredients for foods and supplements, said uncertainty about health claims was a bigger barrier to progress than economic uncertainty. "The economy is picking up, but companies are reluctant to commit time and money to developing products built around health claims they do not know whether they will be able to make."

Patrick Coppens at Brussels-based food law consultancy EAS, said: "This is not a good atmosphere for innovation. There is also no clarity about transition periods: if a claim is officially rejected, how long do you have before you must remove it from the market?"

The second batch of 'article 13.1' health claims opinions will be published at the end of February.

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