Health Claims and Food Labelling
Published:03 Dec 2019
Special Collection: 2019 ebook collection
Health Claims and Food Labelling, ed. S. Astley, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2019, pp. P005-P008.
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In June 2016, the EC-funded Framework 7 project BACCHUS (Beneficial effects of bioactive compounds in humans, grant agreement no. 3120900) hosted a workshop in Brussels (Belgium) exploring best practice in health claims and human studies underpinning health claims. The wider objective of BACCHUS had been to develop tools and resources that could facilitate generation of robust and exploitable scientific evidence supporting claims for cause-and-effect relationships between bioactive (food) peptides and polyphenols, and beneficial physiological effects related to cardiovascular health in humans.
To achieve this, BACCHUS assembled 12 leading research and technological centres and 16 small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including some developing food products that might be suitable for a health claim. Activities were aligned with key aspects of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) health claim evaluation process (e.g. legislation and dossiers, product/bioactive characterisation, habitual intakes in a population, bioavailability, mechanisms and biomarkers, clinical trials evidence of health benefit) and, as well as new scientific results, user-friendly best practice guidelines were published to support both SME food businesses and research organisations pursuing a health claim. The final workshop presented the BACCHUS outputs and sought feedback from food businesses as well as comparing the European approach with the legislative environment in New Zealand, which had recently undergone significant change with respect to health claims.
This book arose from the workshop, specifically the programme – reflecting the major interests of the various sectors – and feedback received from participants, particularly how the European food industry, dominated by SMEs, might find their way through such a technical process successfully. It is not a comprehensive exploration of the various legislative frameworks around the globe that consider food labelling (nutrients and allergens) and health claims, but rather a readily accessible starting point for researchers and food businesses alike, providing signposts to and around the enormous body of literature and legislation covering these topics.
The main focus is on Europe, with Chapter 1: European Food Information Regulations: Recent Developments considering the most recent changes, specifically mandatory labelling of nutrients through the Regulation on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers (FIC) (1169/2011/EC), and the history behind this Regulation and different labelling requirements. Chapter 2: Impact of Health Claims Regulations on the Food Industry and Future Innovation Potential looks at the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR, EC No 1924/2006) more specifically, and how economic competitiveness, product innovation and better understanding amongst consumers can be achieved for mutual benefit. Chapter 3: Supporting the European Food Industry to Meet Nutrient Labelling Regulations focuses on the needs of food businesses and how information provided, and actions undertaken by competent authorities, trade associations and others across the EU or within EU Member States, can best inform businesses of their responsibilities, including access to legislation and the availability of guidelines and training.
Chapter 4: Health Claims Regulation: Opportunities and Challenges in Europe explores how claims about nutritional and health properties of foods and beverages are regulated in Europe, under Regulation No 1924/2006, and the detailed processes in place to ensure scientific validity as well as how, over time, difficulties with this legislation have emerged including monitoring of compliance, as managed at the national (EU MS) level. Such constraints have, arguably, limited the number of claims submitted to EFSA for scrutiny and might disadvantage disproportionately the smaller food business, which make up the majority of the European food and beverage sector.
Chapter 5: Use of Nutrition and Health Claims and Symbols on Prepacked Foods in Europe: From Consumer Exposure to Public Health Implications reports on the use of nutrition and health claims in the market, as reported by the pan-European CLYMBOL. Whilst CLYMBOL found that foods labelled with nutrition and/or (specific) health claims, for the most part, used the mandatory nutrition declaration, a quarter of the foods with nutrition claims did not include the content of the nutrient/substance to which the claim referred or did not meet defined conditions for an authorised claim and, in some cases, unauthorised claims were used. Generally, the occurrence of (non-specific) health claims was lower than nutrition claims, possibly because these claims were not recognised as health claims, which is in itself a major issue. Related to this, Chapter 6: Measuring the Effects of Health Claims and Symbols: The CLYMBOL Methodological Toolbox describes a tool designed to provide guidance for policy-makers and food businesses who need simple and robust, but scientifically sound, methods to test consumer understanding of claims and symbols, and obtain insights into potential effects on purchasing and consumption.
In contrast, Chapter 7: Food Allergen Labelling Regulation considers the mandatory indication of priority allergens. Food allergies have risen in prominence over the last 20–30 years and, currently, as there is no accepted cure, individuals have to practise life-long avoidance of problem food(s). Although rare, individuals with food allergies can be hospitalised as a consequence of accidental exposure and there is risk of a fatal reaction (anaphylaxis). Thus, allergic consumers need to identify, without doubt, products that are safe to eat and those that must be avoided. Despite the introduction of mandatory priority allergen labelling, there are significant issues with so-called precautionary labelling, where consumers are warned about a potential risk arising from cross-contamination. Chapter 8: The Impact of “Labelling” on the Beliefs, Attitudes and Behaviours of Consumers with Food Allergy: A Multilevel Perspective reviews the impact of increasingly widespread, and sometime indiscriminate, use of precautionary labelling on food-allergic individuals or their carers, and healthcare professionals, and how the existing approaches might be revised, based on emerging scientific knowledge, to provide greater protection for consumers and the food industry.
In contrast, Chapter 9: Food Labelling Practices in North America: Canada and the USA; Chapter 10: Supporting Food Health Claims in New Zealand's Regulatory Environment and Chapter 11: Latin American Food Labelling: Review and Recent Developments describe labelling approaches in two regions (North and South America) and one country, New Zealand, reflecting the original comparison first made in BACCHUS.
New Zealand has brought together food scientists, regulatory considerations and consumer perspectives and provided tools for food businesses making health claims and improve communication whilst Canada and the USA have led the way, setting policy rationales as means for adopting food labelling regulatory requirements, with mandatory declarations for nutrients and priority allergens. In both the USA and Canada, regulators have also set conditions for the discretionary use of statements such as health claims, which are different from those prescribed in Europe. In contrast to North America, Europe and New Zealand, Latin American countries are characterised by all forms of malnutrition as well as a significant burden of non-communicable diseases, such as obesity and diabetes. There is also increased consumption of ultra-processed foods, high in sugars, saturated and trans fats and sodium. To date, three countries have implemented mandatory front-of-package labelling, as a tool for improving diets and communicating potential health benefits, and tackle both under- and over-nutrition.