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December 14 EU health claims crack down: Are B2B comms affected?

By Richard Clarke , 05-Dec-2012

Clarke: "Trade PR and advertising are set to play a much more important role..."
Clarke: "Trade PR and advertising are set to play a much more important role..."

December 14 brings the long awaited and widely disputed EU crack down on health claims. That means 222 general function claims are good to go, another 1500 or so prohibited. But what happens to B2B communications?

The claims clamp down is likely to dampen the festive spirit for plenty of ingredients companies – notably those marketing ingredients that are not (yet) backed by EFSA-approved health claims, writes consultant, Richard Clarke.

They are, understandably, awaiting the onset of 14 December 2012 with a fair degree of trepidation.

B2B free: Positive signals

Nevertheless, there is actually some good news to savour. There are strong signs that business-to-business comms in the EU will be exempted from the NHCR – at least in some member states, as the NHCR is open to interpretation in this area.

The UK Department of Health (DoH) made its position clear recently: “While the regulation applies to claims made in commercial communications about foods it is our opinion that it will not control claims made in communications within trade (business to business) … whether the claim is in the labelling, advertising or other presentation of the food.”

“This is provided that the recipients are acting within the scope of their professional activities and that they are not being addressed as final consumers of the foods.”

The message couldn’t be clearer, and it is highly significant for ingredients companies. Trade press comms are game on – responsibly, of course – but with the freedom to discuss the benefits of their ingredients with or without an European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) green light.

Matter of interpretation

That is the UK position anyway, but other member states have other ideas. In a letter to interested parties earlier this year, the DoH admitted some EU member states took the view B2B communications should fall within the scope of the NHCR (member states were not specified).

This doesn’t necessarily mean the DoH has got it wrong – rather that B2B commercial communications remain a grey area. The NHCR is not explicit about exactly what a ‘commercial communication’ is.

However, the wording of the regulation is nonetheless pretty clear the law is specifically designed to protect consumers – implying that B2B communications are indeed exempt.

Uncertainty is rarely a good thing, and the European Commission may choose to clarify matters in this area in the future. Nevertheless, the unambiguous position taken by the UK on this matter – a position that is supported by other member states – is a welcome boost for the ingredients industry.

Communications through industry media outlets with controlled distribution will not pose a particular problem in this respect. Websites, however, are usually accessible by all. As such, it is highly recommended that ingredients companies place some kind of ‘business only’ disclaimer on their homepages.

Assuming the website does not appeal to consumers, such a disclaimer should be sufficient, although individual member state interpretation should be considered.

Trade PR and advertising are set to play a much more important role in the marketing mix than ever before.

Richard Clarke is Director of PR firm, Ingredient Communications.

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