Foods that help your immune system, supplements to aid bone health, a drink to regulate your gut – all products many swear by. But should they be able to make such health claims if they’re not backed by science?
So what’s a health claim? Probiotic yoghurts are a good example. They often claim to aid digestion, attributing the benefit to bacterial cultures, which may or may not be scientifically proven.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been given the task of assessing the science behind these claims under European regulations. Yet, out of the hundreds it’s checked so far, the EFSA has turned down roughly 80% of them, since no cause and effect relationship could be found.
So it’s being dealt with?
Well, yes and no. While these claims are being assessed, nobody’s acting on the conclusions. Under the regulations, EFSA gives its scientific assessment, but these only become law once the European Commission has taken them to the member states to vote on.
This is already a lengthy process that has been further delayed due to the huge number of claims submitted. So we’ll have to wait until late next year for voting to happen and then manufacturers will be given roughly six months to comply with any changes. This leaves consumers in the dark, plain and simple.
In the words of our chief policy advisor Sue Davies, ‘These delays simply give irresponsible companies a further reprieve to bamboozle consumers, who will be left with no idea about which health claims they can trust.’
Shouldn’t supplement choices be informed?
A lot of people believe in the benefits of these supplements and that they should be free to choose. That’s fair enough, but these choices should be informed.
You can’t make an informed decision if a health claim isn’t backed by independent scientific assessment. Plus, although many of these claims have been shown to be misleading, it’s taking far too long for enforcement to be carried out.
And not only could you be paying a premium on the basis of unsubstantiated claims, we also found supplements with potentially unsafe levels of vitamins and minerals without recommended warnings in place. This is especially worrying when a third of the 1,263 supplement takers we asked didn’t know that taking too much could damage your health.
Do you think it’s right for us to wait so long for unsubstantiated health claims to be removed from food supplements? Or do you think it’s a consumer choice, and manufacturers should be able to claim what they want?