Break health claims law 'at your peril'

By Freddie Dawson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Health claims, Advertising

Firms have six months to comply to a 'yes'
Firms have six months to comply to a 'yes'
Manufacturers must review any health claims they make – on TV, in products, print advertising, and online – over the coming eight months or risk falling foul of new EU legislation, experts have warned.

Any claims they make must comply with an authorised list of over 900 general health claims that was published last month by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Once this list has been approved by the European Parliament which should be over the next couple of months firms will have a six-month transition period in which to comply, according to David Bond, partner in advertising and marketing at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse.

Firms that do not comply in time will be named and shamed in the press, warned Bond. Persistent offenders could face fines or criminal prosecution, he added.

The approved list of health claims was welcomed by consumer protection group, Which? It said the list would allow consumers to choose products "based on fact, not fiction"​ and that manufacturers would "need hard evidence, not just clever marketing, to promote the health benefits of food and drink"​.

Struggle to sell

However, the European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM) has called for a delay to the start of the transition period. EHPM argues that, because many of its members' products have shelf-lives of up to three years, the relatively short lead-up period would make them struggle to sell stock and change packaging in time. It could also reduce product availability for consumers, EHPM warned.

The EHPM also wants to see a review of the way in which EFSA assesses health claims. It claimed that EFSA had been delivering 'yes/no' verdicts instead of the 'extent to which' the evidence in dossiers meets the requirements laid out in legislation when weighing up research data supplied.

Bond highlighted company websites as an area where outdated and soon to be illegal content on claims could often be found.

TV and print ads

"Many manufacturers will have been quite careful about their labels as well as their TV and print ads,"​ Bond said. "But they knew they could put pretty much put what they wanted on their websites."

Although having no plans to do so at present, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which will have responsibility for policing compliance with the new rules, has not ruled out the possibility that it will actively monitor the use of health claims by food manufacturers across different media channels.

The ASA took over the regulation of marketing in unpaid space on company websites and on areas of third-party sites such as Facebook and Twitter under companies' control in March.

"The EFSA register reflects legislation and provisions already in place. We'd expect advertisers that made claims to do so in line with those regulations,"​ said an ASA spokesman. "It's just that this extends to their own websites now."

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