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EU Health Claims Regulation - an Issue for Research

28 July 2011

Following a growing consumer demand for healthy food, the nutritionists' focus now lies in functional food innovations with natural compounds such as lactobacillus acting probiotic in guts as well as on cholestrol-reducing fibres or cell-protecting antioxidantia.

The change in attitude is reflected in US studies that suggest a rise of 40 per cent in energy reduced food articles between 2004 and 2009.

Many innovative approaches were presented during the 2011 edition of the "Nutrevent", an international innovation congress organized by the Eurasanté and the Nutrition, Health and Logevity Cluster in the French city of Lille.

The innovations included communication strategies with or without the so-called "Health Claims" allowed by the EU regulation body EFSA ( European Food Safety Authorities) since the launch of first EFSA opinions in April 2011.

Major issues that the conference examined were how is "healthy food" defined, which food compounds are scientifically approved as health-enhancing, what type of food information consumers need or want and whether "pharma" and "food" need more convergence to be innovative.

"Drivers behind healthy food innovation are multiple. It is not only science or R&D investment, but also individual awareness of health and the individual risk-benefit analysis including the growing regulatory landscape that directs the innovation and the communication towards consumers," said Nico van Belzen, Executive Director of ILSI Europe, the international life science institute bringing together researchers from industry, academia and the public sector.

An overview on the decision mechanisms of the EU body was given by Professor Ambroise Martin, Universtiy of Lyon, being a member of the EFSA NDA panel.

He explained the guiding principles behind the EU regulation (1924/2006) which require a scientific assessment of the health claims, changing management and marketing of food products in the EU nutrition industry.

Food communication, therefore, should strike a balance between benefit claims, risk alertness and general consumer information, said Monique Raats from the Food, Consumer Behaviour & Health Research Centre of the University of Surrey in the UK.

To back up the case she cited results from studies done in EU project "FoodRisc" that aim at exploring the role of both traditional and new social media in communication of food issues.

Concerns among industry research and academic research rose about the "scientific strictness" of EFSA which rejected in spring tenthousands of products with a claimed "health supporting" effect due to "non substantied evidence".

A strong emphasis will lie in the future definition of biomarkers as physiological and analytical indicators to identify the health supporting effects of food compounds for healthy people including new marketing strategies or lifestyle recommendations.

Being a supporter of the "nutrevent" congress, the "afresh" EU project there could join interesting partners for future activites in the field of "healthy lifestyles".

July 2011

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