Sugar low: “The use of such a health claim would convey a conflicting and confusing message..."

Glucose health claims: EFSA says yes; EC says no (and closes door)

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

Commission puts EFSA opinion to one side as it rejects five glucose claims due to public health concerns
Commission puts EFSA opinion to one side as it rejects five glucose claims due to public health concerns

Related tags Health claims Nutrition Caffeine Snack

Five glucose health claims approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) back in 2012 have been officially banned by the European Commission due to concerns over what they would say to consumers about sugar consumption.

The claims, all filed by Dextro Energy, were formally refused by the Commission this week, with the decision now written into its official journal​.

The Commission reasoned that while a cause and effect relationship had been established between the consumption of glucose and contribution to energy-yielding metabolism, these claims were inconsistent with, “generally accepted nutrition and health principles”​.

“The use of such a health claim would convey a conflicting and confusing message to consumers, because it would encourage consumption of sugars for which, on the basis of generally accepted scientific advice, national and international authorities inform the consumer that their intake should be reduced.”

EFSA is responsible for the scientific assessment of such claims, but it is the Commission, along with EU member states and institutions which are tasked with mandating these opinions in the law.

A similar situation has been seen with health claims for caffeine, for which EFSA delivered positive scientific opinions, but which are yet to make it to the lawbooks due to member state concerns about caffeine consumption largely through energy drinks.

Dr Luca Bucchini, managing director at Hylobates Consulting, said that while this was not the first case of a ban on public health grounds – with a similar call made on claims​ for the effect of fats on the normal absorption of fat soluble vitamins and sodium on the maintenance of normal muscle function in 2012 – this latest glucose decision offered some pointers on which way other blocked claims like that for caffeine may go.  

Can claims be restricted to avoid encouraging excessive use?

In its decision, the Commission said that even if the health claims were to be authorised with specific restrictive conditions of use or accompanied by additional warnings, “it would not be sufficient to alleviate the confusion of the consumer, and consequently the claim should not be authorised”. 

Luca Bucchini

Bucchini said this point, which suggests there was no way to restrict the use of the glucose claim to avoid negative effects for consumers, was key.

The same concerns were raised for carbs and sports, but the health claim has been authorised because it was possible to restrict use of the claim in ways that would not encourage excessive use.”

As a result, this point, along with EFSA's upcoming safety assessment in the case of caffeine, could be an important consideration in these stalled claims beyond glucose.

“Can the use of caffeine health claims be restricted in ways that do not encourage excess consumption? That's the key, and hopefully the EC and member states will look at the science, and not to politics.”

Sugar as the bad guy

Sugar cubes spoon

Katharine Jenner, campaign director for public health lobby group Action On Sugar, told us she was surprised to see claims for glucose rejected when that for fructose​ had made it through the system. However, she added that ultimately it was a “great step forward in busting the myth that we need added sugars for energy”​.

“Glucose is the brain’s primary energy source, but whereas some food, and particular drinks, manufacturers would like to claim their products are a good source of energy, in fact, the body makes glucose from any food that contains carbohydrates, and doesn’t need it from ‘added’ glucose. These foods include fruits, vegetables, breads and pasta, none of which need contain added glucose.”

Bucchini said this ruling was another move toward sugar being cast as the “bad guy”​ and marked a certain end to any ‘positive’ health advertising around sugar. “It should mark the end of ads about sugar and kids jumping full of energy.”

Dextro Energy did not respond to NutraIngredients in time for the publication of this article. 

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