The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is carrying out an evaluation of the scientific substantiation of claims regarding food health benefits on behalf of the European Commission (EC). More than 4,000 health claims are currently being scientifically evaluated by the EFSA’s Panel of Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies. The claims originate from lists submitted by the Member States in 2008 and have been selected as the most significant out of more than 44,000 claims.
The results of the evaluation will form the basis of an EC decision on the permissibility of using the claims in the consumer marketplace. The results from the second round of evaluations, covering 416 different claims, were published on 25 February 2010.
The result of the first round of EFSA evaluations covered over 500 claims and positive opinions were given to health claims relating to e.g. vitamins and minerals, where scientific evidence supported the claims in relation to the products.
In this second round, a mere 8 out of 416 claims were found to have satisfying scientific support. The reason for most of the negative opinions were the poor quality of information, e.g. insufficient or lacking information regarding the actual substance on which the claim was based, insufficient or lacking evidence of the claimed effect or lack of reliable human studies of the health benefits.
All 170 types of foods and food components labeled with claims that reducing free radicals through antioxidants would lead to health benefits received negative opinions, as this has not been substantiated according to the EFSA. There may potentially be positive effects, but there is currently no reliable method of examining and identifying them. Claims of positive effects on blood-sugar levels by five fiber food components and some 30 plants also received negative opinions, as the EFSA found no or insufficient scientific support of the claims. Out of 68 probiotic strains, 65 lacked the characterisation needed for evaluation and were therefore not evaluated. The three remaining strains were sufficiently characterised, but received negative statements due to lack of information regarding which substance the claim was referring to.
Among the claims that were considered substantiated, we find the positive effects of vitamin D on the immune system, potassium’s contribution to the function of the muscles and nerves as well as to the blood pressure, the fiber guar gum’s contribution to normal levels of cholesterol, how intake of melatonin can reduce the effects of jet-lag and the claim that food replacements containing less than 250 kcal/portion can contribute to weight loss and later preservation of the target weight.
EFSA’s work of evaluating the remaining claims continues and is expected to be completed by 2011.