Clear evidence between probiotic consumption and health through “gene expression in the gut” has been shown in a recent paper published in the science journal Nature, which the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will find hard to ignore, said Berryman. He added that the findings of this research provided “the first real biomarker, which means there is a direct link” between probiotic consumption and maintenance of good health for a generally “healthy” population.
Health claim approval
“I am confident that eventually we will get a probiotic health claim approval,” said Berryman. “I would like to see it in the next 12 months. Whether we will or not remains to be seen.”
To date, EFSA's panel on dietetic products, nutrition and allergies (NDA) has dismissed all probiotic health claim dossiers submitted by companies for its approval, much to the surprise of the food industry, which believed it had rigorous and compelling evidence for their positive effects across a range of health issues.
One the NDA's main criticisms in the past has been that dossiers submitted had tended to focus on the beneficial effects of probiotics on those with specific health problems rather than healthy people as a whole – something which has been difficult to prove.
“It is quite easy to show that consumption of a probiotic will change the of bacteria in the gut; it was much more difficult to join the dot between that and the other dot, which says it also improves your immune system,” said Berryman. “If you show it changes the gene expression, which is linked to the immune system, that is a first step to proving it.”
Berryman also criticised the lack of specialist probiotic expertise among the scientists on the EFSA’s NDA panel. “Let’s face it, the scientists at Danone know a lot more about probiotics than the EFSA scientists,” he said.
“If you are looking at cutting edge science, you need to have cutting edge people on the committee … do they really understand the science?”