EFSA Press Release, 28 July 2011
Scientists on the European Food Safety Authority’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA Panel) have reached a major milestone in their work on health claims by publishing evaluations of the last group of ‘general function’ claims [see Note below], excluding those related to botanical substances.
The publication of the final series of 35 evaluations is the culmination of more than three years’ work by EFSA’s experts. Since 2008 the Panel has assessed 2,758 food-related general function health claims to determine whether they were supported by sound scientific evidence, thereby assisting the European Commission and Member States in the establishment of a list of claims authorised for food. These approved claims will enable European consumers to make informed choices about their diet.
Professor Albert Flynn, Chair of EFSA’s NDA Panel, said: “This very challenging task was completed thanks to the dedication and commitment of the experts on the NDA Panel in collaboration with EFSA staff, who have had to cope with an unprecedented and unforeseen workload, coupled with very tight deadlines and often poor information.
“Despite these challenges our experts have assessed the claims consistently and fairly to the highest possible scientific standards. All this was achieved within the deadline agreed with the Commission.
“EFSA’s independent evaluation concluded that a considerable number of claims made on foods are backed by sound science, including claims related to a wide range of health benefits.”
The outcomes of evaluations were favourable when there was sufficient evidence to support the claims. This was the case in about one in five claims, which related mainly to:
Experts issued unfavourable opinions in cases where the information provided did not allow a relationship between the food and the claimed effect to be established. Reasons included:
In carrying out this work EFSA has adopted a phased approach due to the large number of claims received and the requirement for EFSA to publish opinions soon after adoption to ensure transparency. EFSA also combined similar claims (for example, by substance and/or benefit) to facilitate the risk assessment process and ensure a consistent approach.
Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, EFSA’s Executive Director, said: “EFSA’s work on general function health claims has highlighted the importance of constructive dialogue between risk assessors, scientists, decision-makers and stakeholders and has contributed to our thinking on the future shape of our organisation. As a result, EFSA plans to launch an applications help desk to facilitate dialogue with applicants.
“By ensuring that there is a shared understanding of the scientific evidence required, the work we have undertaken will, we trust, support the work of industry by helping to establish future directions for research and innovation.”
The NDA Panel will continue to assess health claims, such as those submitted by individual applicants concerning claims based on children’s development or health. Following a meeting with stakeholders last year, EFSA has finalised a guidance document for health claims related to gut and immune function and has launched on-line consultations on guidance for health claims related to: bone, joint and oral health; oxidative damage and cardiovascular health; and satiety, weight management and blood glucose concentrations.
Note to editors:
Out of the 4,637 claims submitted to EFSA by the European Commission between July 2008 and March 2010, the European Commission asked EFSA to evaluate 2,758 claims by June 2011, 331 claims were withdrawn and 1,548 claims on “botanicals” have been placed on hold by the Commission pending further consideration on how to proceed with these.
Timeline of publications of EFSA’s evaluations in this area:
EFSA is liaising with the European Commission and Member States regarding the re-submission of a limited number of ‘general function’ health claims, such as those relating to microorganisms which were considered by the Panel to be insufficiently characterised or claims for which the evidence provided during the initial submission was not sufficient to establish a cause and effect relationship. EFSA expects to receive the claims for reassessment from the European Commission before the end of 2011 and the precise timetable for the further assessment will be drawn up once the re-submission process has been completed.
‘General function’ claims defined under Article 13.1 of the Regulation (EC) No 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. They do not include claims related to children’s development or health or disease risk reduction, which are covered by Article 14 of the Regulation.