Food and drink manufacturers will soon be required to use hard evidence, not just clever marketing to promote the health benefits of their products. Would you like to choose healthy foods based on fact, not fiction?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could take the health claims printed on the food you buy at face value?
Rather than having to carefully examine the ingredients and nutritional information, you could just have confidence that what it said was true and you weren’t just pouring money down the drain.
Well, we’re now a lot closer to that nirvana. EU Member States voted yesterday to adopt a list of scientifically proven health claims on food and drinks. The list sets out the wording that can be used and the conditions that food companies must meet if they want to use a particular claim.
Approved claims include ‘calcium is needed for the maintenance of healthy bones’ and ‘reduced consumption of sodium contributes to the maintenance of normal blood pressure’.
This list of health claims will now go to the European Parliament to scrutinise and then, once published, manufacturers will have six months to comply.
Less hype, more health please
There will also be a list of rejected health claims. This is something we’ve be campaigning on for many years here at Which? and it’s been frustratingly slow to get to this point.
In 2006, the EU passed regulation to make sure that all food health claims were independently assessed by the European Food Safety Authority to be scientifically proven. The science behind over 4000 health claims were assessed, and at last we have a list.
Incredibly, around 80% of the claims submitted couldn’t be backed up. This includes claims about green tea maintaining normal blood pressure, royal jelly contributing to a stronger immune system, glucosamine maintaining joints, and taurine (in some energy drinks) improving mental performance.
However, the list isn’t quite complete. Some health claims are still being debated. For example, probiotic producers weren’t able to show that they had the science to back them up, but have been given extra time to resubmit for another try.
Having a healthy ingredient isn’t enough
Another crucial aspect that still has to be sorted out is working out how ‘healthy’ a food has to be to make a health claim.
The Regulation on Health and Nutrition Claims requires maximum levels of fat, sugar and salt to be set, so that products containing one healthy ingredient don’t end up being bad for you. But this is something else that has become hugely controversial and it is unclear when the EU will ever agree on this.
So, overall, yesterday’s vote was very significant and long overdue. While there are still several aspects to be sorted out, next time we are taken in by a food’s healthy claim, it may turn out that it’s actually telling the truth. Here’s hoping.