Last reviewed 23 February 2012

Eric Davies reports on the implementation of the Claims Regulation.

Introduction

EU Member States have endorsed a draft list of 222 health claims to be authorised for use on food products. The agreement is a further step in the implementation of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods. Under the regulation, businesses are able to use authorised health claims, but prohibited from using rejected claims. The new rules are likely to enter into force in mid-2012.

The Claims Regulation

Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 “on nutrition and health claims made on foods” (the “Claims Regulation”) applies to all nutrition and health claims made in commercial communications, including labelling, presentation and advertising of foods, and promotional campaigns.

A health claim is considered to be any statement used on labels, in marketing or in advertising to suggest that health benefits can result from consuming a given food or from one of its components (eg vitamins, minerals, fibre).

The regulation was introduced in response to concerns that consumers might be misinformed or misled by health claims. It requires that claims must not mislead consumers, and that they must be accurate, truthful, understandable and based on scientific evidence.

Article 13 of the regulation (as amended) concerns “Health claims other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to children's development and health”. Article 13.1 applies to “general function” health claims — those referring to growth, development and the functions of the body; to psychological and behavioural functions; and to slimming or weight-control.

The positive list

The regulation requires the European Commission to draw up a list of permitted health claims (the “positive list”) for assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). On the basis of EFSA advice, the Commission then proposes which claims should be approved.

Some 44,000 health claims were submitted to the Commission by the Member States in January 2008. Following a process of weeding and consolidation, the Commission asked the EFSA to assess 4637 claims. The list was further refined by EFSA, and the Commission decided to seek agreement of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (representatives of the competent national authorities) for the approval of 224 claims. At its meeting on 5 December 2011, the Committee approved 222 of them. Providing the European Parliament and the Council raise no objection, the Commission will adopt the new regulation “on the authorisation of certain health claims made on foods, other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to children's development and health”. The new rules will apply six months after the act is published.

The list of approved claims will be annexed to the regulation; claims will also be listed in an EU register of nutrition and health claims. Once the list of 222 approved claims is published, the register will provide details of them, including the conditions of use which apply to each. The register will also give details of rejected health claims, which will be prohibited six months after the regulation enters into force.

Further information

The European Commission’s Directorate General (DG) for Health and Consumers provides information on health and nutrition claims, including the text of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. The DG also maintains the EU Register on health and nutrition claims.