EFSA must make claims process easier to promote innovation, warn experts

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Health claim applications to the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) are too lengthy and too expensive, experts from the EU-backed Rediclaim said during its recent online conference.

The reduction of disease risk claims on food and drinks (Rediclaim) project conducted a webinar last week on Nutrition and Health Claim Regulations (NHCR), discussing both the advantages and disadvantages.

Experts noted that EFSA 13.1 claims and more popular than EFSA 13.5 or 14.1a claims.

Speaking at the event, Professor Liisa Lähteenmäki -from MAPP, the centre of research on value creation in the food sector at Aarhus University - said a main aim of NHCRs is to promote innovation in the sector of food and beverages, however this hasn’t happened.

She said that when asked how well the NHCR has succeeded in promoting innovating in the area of food and beverages, around quarter of industry R&D experts responded “not at all”.

Only four out of 154 people said “to a great extent”, she noted.

Lähteenmäki commented that high prices and resource demands of applications could be one reason why.

During her research, Lähteenmäki said responses she received about health claims have not been positive, with one participant saying: “There is no point in investing in research because you can’t make a health claim stronger than your competitor who just adds the vitamin. This is a huge disincentive to any ingredient innovation around health claims”.

However, Lähteenmäki continued to say that health claims give credibility to companies and can be extremely useful for marketing, as health is a fundamental promotional tool in the food industry.

She discussed at length the differences between the EFSA article 13.1 claims and articles 13.5 or 14.1a claims, saying companies may be more likely to choose the former.

Article 13.1 claims vs. Article 13.5 and Article 14.1a claims

Article 13 claims relate to the maintenance or support of healthy physiology or psychological function, whereas article 13.5 claims apply to new full submissions and article 14.1a claims refer to disease risk (factor) reduction.

Article 13.1 claims do not require an application and companies can use existing claims. They demand less resources but there is inflexibility in the wording of claims.

Article 13.5 and 14.1a claims have the ability to differentiate products with claims, but again there is inflexibility in the wording. They have a long application process and demand lots of money and resources, and there is no guarantee of the outcome.

"There is an advantage [for 13.1 claims] as there is no application required and mainly the resources used to use these claims relates to product development and not research, so there are less resources needed to develop the products," she explained.

Consumers also do not realise the difference between the two types of claims, meaning it companies get the same result from 13.1 claims despite the easier process, she continued.

From an innovation point of view, 13.1 claims are more beneficial as they promote product development.

Dr Igor Pravst, head of the research group “Nutrition and Public Health” at the Nutrition Institute in Ljubljana, Slovenia, spoke in the webinar about how companies can make the application process easier for themselves.

He said the main things to keep in mind when compiling an application dossier are:

  • The wording of health claims should not be too general and must reflect scientific evidence
  • The claimed effect should be clearly defined and relevant for human health
  • The research should be based primarily on human efficacy studied
  • The application should include both published and non-published studies and their results

The full webinar is available to view here.

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