by Marion Nestle
Nov 30 2011

Report from the EU: functional foods, supplements, health claims

Sebastián Romero Melchor writing in Food Chemical News (subscription required, alas) a few days ago points out that the market for functional foods in the European Union is growing.  He advises U.S. firms who want to take advantage of  its €40 billion (equal to roughly $54 billion USD) market to pay attention to some important facts:

  • Novel ingredients: Ingredients that were not consumed to a significant extent in the EU before May 15, 1997 must undergo a costly and lengthy authorization procedure so dreadful that most companies give up and choose not to include them.
  • Supplements: The European Commission has no problem with vitamins and minerals, but marketing of food supplements and fortified foods remains subject to each European country’s separate national laws.  Products legally marketed and/or manufactured in a member-state can be legally marketed throughout the EU, provided that they are (a) safe, (b) not novel, and (3) not medicinal.
  • Health claims: The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued opinions on health claims for most substances.  It has evaluted about 2,750 petitions for health claims but only approved about 600.

If only the FDA would take as rigorous a stance.

  • I think this claim will be benifit for us,hope they pay more attention on the food industry and the food health.Good sharing

  • Anthro

    In some ways, Europeans are much more respectful of science, because they are less dogmatically religious, and seemingly, better educated as a population. They do not have to contend with the now chronic meme of “big, bad, useless government”, but rather tend more to expect their government to act in the public interest.

    On another note–and more to an earlier post: Mark Bittman’s column in today’s Times has some good ideas that I’d like to see the Farm Bill parties be required to read.

  • It’s not clear why you think a registration process “so dreadful that most companies give up” is necessarily a good thing. Yes, we need caution, but innovation has been dropping sharply among EU food companies because it is so unclear that new products can be marketed — even when they could clearly provide health benefits. Authorization procedures should ensure that claims are justified and products safe. Authorization should not simply freeze the state of the art at one point in time with no innovation possible.

    While mutual recognition exists in theory from one member state to another, the system largely does not work in practice when it comes to anything having to do with food and agriculture. Member states have the right to claim health and environmental exceptions, which many do freely to protect the traditional, local way of doing things. Sometimes, ironically, producers from other member states can sell products under mutual recognition while local producers cannot, thus creating unfair market conditions.

    The USA would do well to consider the disadvantages of the European system before copying it. There may be useful aspects to adapt and adopt, but much more thorough analyses are required first.

  • AM

    All new products in the EU have to be registered under REACH. It is a great idea and prevents companies from using harmful products before they are tested (common in US, first pollute then take action when something bad happens; I’m waiting to see what will happen with pollutants from the fracking technology which is exempt from the clean water act or new super pesticides which are getting stronger and stronger due to GMO…). REACH gives some confidence to customers that the government is thinking about the people and not who will pay for their next election. REACH might have its own problems, but at least it is a step forward in making it clear that the environment and human health is above plain greedy profits.
    Innovations are needed, but why would we need new chemicals, especially in food that make people sick? It just makes no sense. There is a reason so many chemicals are banned (EPA has huge lists) and it would have been better if there were regulations in the first place so these chemicals were never sold.

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  • If we believe everything we read and hear we would all have died from starvation by now! One day an apple a day keeps the doctor “away according to studies”. Then Tomorrow, it may lead to an increase in blood pressure for 25% of people over 50 with brown hair and a beard. Too musch belief is placed on supposed facts which quite frankly bear more resemblance to coincidence than science. Trust what you know. Basic elements are not contaminated. Water is good fo you. Vitamins and Minerls are also good for you and can lead to a healthier you, if used in moderation.

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