The European Commission has culled its gargantuan nutrition and health claims list from more than 40,000 to 1500 as the health claims process moves closer to fruition in January, 2010.
The list has been reduced so dramatically because many initial submissions duplicated each other. Others were deemed inappropriate for want of supporting data or were making claims about foods or food supplements that were not legally available in the EU.
The nutrition and health claims regulation was enacted last year and seeks to harmonise claims across the bloc by creating central lists of approved claims that can be employed in all of the EU's 27 member states.
The 1500 claims have been returned to member states for final comment and they will then be passed to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for assessment, expected by the end of July.
Speaking at the Probiotech probiotics conference in Nantes, France, Veronique Azais-Braesco, director of consultancy, VAB Nutrition, said member states had up to 10 days to respond to the claims.
Of the 1500 claims that remain in the hat, 114 relate to proprietary and generic probiotic strains, Azais-Braesco said, mostly in the areas of immunity and gut health.
"This regulation provides adequate proprietary rights and so there are many claims being made about unique strains," she told NutraIngredients.com at the conference.
She wouldn't speculate on the percentage of claims likely to be approved but observed that, "EFSA will be very strict on claims."
Once it has received the claims, EFSA's team of scientists will begin the task of validating them, although it has given no timeframe for this work other than the January 31, 2010 deadline.
Industry has expressed its concern about EFSA's ability to meet this deadline although the Parma, Italy-based agency recently launched a campaign to boost its scientific resources.
The latest list rationalisation may further ease the concerns of figures like Patrick Coppens, the executive director of the Brussels-based industry group, the European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA).
He has observed that each dossier application could take up to one month to process, meaning EFSA may have about 1500 months worth of work on its hands. But this was not certain.
"As long as EFSA has not disclosed how they are going to assess the claims, it will remain a guess how much time they will need to spend and how many claims will ultimately receive a favourable opinion," Coppens said.
When the UK Food Safety Agency submitted its list to the EC, it was broken down into five sections:
- Carbohydrates, diets, fats, fibre, and foods and beverages
- Minerals and other
- Probiotic ingredients, protein, and vitamins
- Plant substances with no known medicinal use in the UK
- Plant substances also with medicinal use in the UK.
The related issue of nutrient profiling is still being debated at European committee level and will determine which foods can carry health claims depending on their overall health profile.