EFSA delivers its first series of opinions on ‘general function’ health claims

EFSA has published its first series of opinions on the list of ‘general function’ health claims compiled by Member States and the European Commission. Experts on EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) evaluated the scientific evidence for more than 500 claims[1] . The opinions will help inform future decisions of the European Commission and Member States concerning the authorisation of health claims[2].

The opinions provide scientific advice on 523 health claims relating to over 200 foods and food components such as vitamins and minerals, fibre, fats, carbohydrates, ‘probiotic’ bacteria, and botanical substances. For approximately one third of the claims the outcomes of the evaluations were favourable as there was sufficient scientific evidence to support the claims. These related mainly to functions of vitamins and minerals, and also included dietary fibres, and fatty acids for maintenance of cholesterol levels, and sugar-free chewing gum for maintenance of dental health. Almost half of the evaluations with unfavourable outcomes were owing to a lack of information on the substance on which the claim is based, for example ‘probiotic’ bacteria and botanical substances. Without clear identification of the substance in question, the Panel could not verify that the scientific evidence provided to EFSA related to the same substance for which the health benefits are claimed.

Commenting on these first results, Professor Albert Flynn, Chair of EFSA’s NDA Panel stated: “EFSA’s independent scientific advice will help ensure that the health claims made on foods are accurate and helpful to consumers in making healthy diet choices. The scientific opinions will inform future decisions of the Commission and Member States concerning the authorisation of health claims”.

EFSA has convened a meeting with experts from Member States and the European Commission on 6 October 2009 in Brussels to discuss the evaluation of the ‘general function’ claims. A briefing document prepared for discussion at the meeting explains EFSA’s approach to the evaluation of these claims .

Between July and December 2008 EFSA received from the European Commission a draft list with 4,185 claims to be evaluated. This list was the result of a consolidation process carried out by the Commission, after examining over 44,000 claims supplied by the Member States. The Panel is proceeding with the adoption and publication of scientific opinions on the outstanding claims on the list. EFSA is liaising with the European Commission in order to define a more precise timetable for completion of the work taking into account possible additional claims to be evaluated.

[1] ‘General function’ claims defined under Article 13.1 of the Regulation 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on food include: The role of a nutrient/substance in growth, development and the functions of the body; psychological and behavioural functions; slimming and weight control or reduction of hunger, increase of satiety or the reduction of available energy from the diet. These claims do not include those related to children's development or health or disease risk reduction.
[2] EFSA is responsible for verifying the scientific substantiation of the claims. EFSA’s advice is taken into account by the European Commission and Member States in authorising health claims.

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