/ Food & Drink, Health

Can we trust health claims on food?

Green tea in a mug

Do you trust claims like, ‘this green tea is good for blood pressure’ when you’re shopping? Or how about, ‘contains calcium for stronger bones?’ If you do, maybe you should think twice before buying from now on.

Why? Under the EU’s regulation, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has to scientifically assess health claims like these to see if they can be substantiated. It gives its opinion on whether the claim can be backed up by science or not.

Its judgements then go to the European Commission and Member States to decide whether they can be included on an official list allowing them to be put on food. Effectively, unsubstantiated claims are banned and true ones are allowed.

Yes, it’s a rather longwinded procedure, but ultimately it means we should be able to trust what we see on food labels.

Where’s the scientific evidence?

Yesterday, it was announced that EFSA will continue to publish opinions in batches when they have finished analysing them, but the European Commission will not start the process to turn these opinions into law until next summer.

That means, unless you’re extremely informed and search through EFSA’s database of rejected claims, there’s a big chance you’ll buy a product with a health claim that just isn’t backed up with proper evidence. And I mean a big chance – so far, an incredible 80% of the health claims assessed have been rejected.

No time to trust claims

So, you could end up paying a little bit extra for a product you think is good for you. Meanwhile, the EC, member states and other experts are walking around knowing this claim has not been proved. Does this make you as livid as I am?

Certain parts of the food industry are definitely in agreement with me and have been lobbying hard in Europe. We hope the more responsible ones will take any claims off the market if they haven’t made it through the scientific assessment.

We say: Consumers are being taken for a ride, needlessly paying a premium on the basis of health claims on food that have no scientific evidence to back them up. This new timetable simply gives irresponsible companies another nine months to confuse consumers, who will still be left with no idea about which health claims they can trust.

corina says:
28 September 2010

I think most of these claims are irresponsible firstly companies are making money out of peoples vulnerability in not knowing enough about health related issues. companies have a responsibility to lets us know the truth not just market certain products as they know they will benefit from it finanically. A recent investigation into the benefits of a herbal suppliment which i will not mention showed that it was completely ineffective however has a worldwide annual sales figure of millions of pounds. Surely with all the eatting disorder we now have to treat we should not allow such reports to be in the media eye and affecting peoples choice of what they eat and take to be healthy!

Baby milk has jut been banned by the ASA for claiming it helps child brain development.

This is what the BBC says about it:

“The advert for Hipp Organic was headlined “We’ve learnt from the breast” and said the follow-on milk contained essential Omega 3 fatty acids for healthy brain and nervous system development, adding: “All this ensures organic goodness to complement Mother Nature’s good work. Trust your natural instincts.”

The ASA said that information submitted to them by Hipp Organic “was not sufficiently robust to support the product’s claims in relation to healthy brain and nervous system development”.”