Healthy claims for fruit and vegetables – arrival of the EU Regulation on Nutrition and Health Claims
After several years of debate and negotiation, the EU Regulation on Nutrition and Health Claims (1924/2006)1 was adopted late last year and is now due for implementation on 1st July 2007. The Regulation will control the use of nutrition and health claims in any commercial communication, including on labels and in advertising, and will limit the use of claims on food products that contain high levels of fat, sugar and salt or that carry endorsements.
Once the legislation is fully implemented and various transition periods have passed, consumers can expect to see on the market only those nutrition and health claims that have been preapproved and published by the European Commission. There will also be a public register of rejected claims, so any interested party wishing to determine the truthfulness of any given claim can check its status on the Commission website.
A nutrition claim describes the nature of a food, for example:
- ‘low fat’1
- ‘high fibre’1
- ‘source of vitamin C’1
A health claim describes or implies a relationship exists between food and health, for example:
- ‘Eating 3 g weekly, or 0.45 g daily, long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, as part of a healthy lifestyle, helps maintain heart health’2
- ‘Folate is necessary for the normal structure of the neural tube in developing embryos’3
Fruit and vegetables and other non-prepackaged foodstuffs (such as bread) will also be covered by the Regulation1. Food companies wishing to make comparative claims in relation to other products will need to comply with the new rules, for example if they intend to claim that their fruit juice contains ‘as much calcium as a glass of milk.’ There has been some debate about whether ‘5-a-day’ statements would fall under the new Regulation1 as an implied nutrition or health claim. It has been confirmed that this is not the case, but companies should refer to the UK Department of Health’s advice on what constitutes a portion (www.5aday.nhs.uk) and further information.
In general, government dietary advice and messages from health professionals are not regarded as commercial communications and therefore are exempt from food law. However, if a food company presents government advice in relation to their product it would be regarded as a stated or implied claim and they would have to comply with the relevant food legislation. In the UK, as in most of Europe, health claims are legally acceptable, but disease risk reduction and medicinal claims for food are not permitted under current legislation. This misalignment between the use of government health messages and commercial health messages has in the past created confusion where companies have used government dietary advice in relation to their products and fallen foul of the law.
The JHCI (Joint Health Claims Initiative) has previously looked at evidence regarding fruit and vegetable consumption and certain types of cancers to help demonstrate the need for change in European food law and allow scientifically proven health messages about the role of the diet in helping to reduce the risk of disease to be used, responsibly, on food products:
- ‘Eating more fruit and vegetables may help reduce the risk of stomach cancer.’4
- ‘Eating more fruit may help reduce the risk of lung cancer. This does not overcome the adverse effects of smoking on lung cancer.’4
- ‘Eating more vegetables as part of a healthy lifestyle may help reduce the risk of bowel cancer.’4
In developing the new claims legislation1, the European Commission has reviewed its position on disease risk reduction claims and has concluded that this prohibition will be lifted under the new rules. From 1st July 2007, companies will be allowed to make disease risk reduction claims, which are clearly defined in the Regulation1 when they have been approved for use in the EU by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). All disease risk reduction claims, claims about children’s health and development, or claims based on new or emerging data will need to be submitted to EFSA in dossier form. An additional list of claims will be published by the European Commission to include health claims which are deemed to be ‘based on generally accepted scientific evidence and well understood by the average consumer.’
Ultimately it is hoped that, by harmonising rules across the EU food companies will help support dietary advice through their claims, such as increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, by providing greater choice and availability of foods for consumers whilst ensuring that they are not being misled by unsubstantiated and spurious claims.
- Corrigendum to Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods (Official Journal of the European Union L 404 of 30 December 2006).
- Joint Health Claims Initiative: www.jhci.org.uk / approved claims (2005).
- Joint Health Claims Initiative. ‘Final Technical Report: A list of Well-Established Nutrient Function Statements. A report by the Joint Health Claims Initiative to the Food Standards Agency.’ (2003).
- Joint Health Claims Initiative: www.jhci.org.uk / information / generic claims considered (2002).