In September, 13 researchers at the University of Hohenheim, Germany, published a paper criticising EFSA's overly prescriptive formula for evidence-based data to substantiate 'general function' claims. These are nutrition claims that do not relate to child development or health or disease risk reduction.
Anke Sentko, vice president, nutrition, communication and regulatory affairs at Beneo-Institute, said: "I have a lot of sympathy with this publication. When I saw how claims were addressed, it's clear nutrition was inadequately covered by the interpretation and implementation of regulations.
"EFSA used evidence-based medicine and applied it to food. Nutrition is about supporting health. Measuring that is even more difficult than measuring health."
EFSA's assessment of Article 13.1 claims, aside from those related to botanicals, is complete and awaits ratification by the European Commission (EC). However, the Hohenheim paper, and Sentko's comments, remain highly relevant to the future assessment process.
Sentko said EFSA's approach was better suited to ingredients claiming intrinsic health benefits or disease risk claims, rather than cases where replacing ingredients with alternatives led to indirect benefits. An example would be replacing sugar with isomaltose, which is far less damaging to teeth.
Another problem was that evidence for many nutritional benefits took years to gather, but EFSA insisted on short-term deadlines, she said. "Do the wrong things now and you could end up with diabetes, but you can't expect to see this now when doing studies with a healthy population."
However, EFSA's approach had softened, she said. had approved a 'tooth-friendly' claim for some sugar replacers. And it was taking a similar tack with low glycaemic response claims, said Sentko. "EFSA is looking at them the same way as the tooth-friendly concept."
Provision could also be made for notes on pack that would clarify claims, said Sentko.
The University of Hohenheim researchers have crafted guidance for bodies taking decisions on claims assessment, such as the EC.