The EU's Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR) explicitly lists what claims manufacturers can use on pack. But US food law attorney Jonathan Emord says the heavy-handed, ‘Napoleonic’ approach the EU takes on regulating health claims - based on EFSA scientific opinions - works against the consumer.
“Over time… I think the EFSA regime is going to beget increased diseases,” he said.
“Sadly there will be a progressive nutrition dark age in Europe.”
Tentative information would work
Emord said that there is a no shortage of scientific evidence for health benefits of ingredients but that an enormous disconnect exists with this reserve of academia and the consumer marketplace.
“One of the things that benefits consumers, is access to science information. Denying us access to science on a basis that it is less than perfect is damaging. If instead of the heavy hand, you had a freedom for communication with less than perfect information, consumers would begin to experiment more,” he said.
“And while this is less than perfect, we are still dealing with legally available ingredients remember,” he added.
Emord said that even with tentative scientific information, consumers should be allowed to make their own purchasing decisions. He said that if there was more of the science on pack, purchases would occur and there would be health benefits for consumers.
‘Dumbed down’ cereal and censorship
“Cereals marketed to children are a very good example of how censorship of health information produces the perverse effect of disabling and rendering dysfunctional that market,” Emord said.
“In the realm of cereal, it’s sad because you’re hurting children.”
Emord said the market has shifted towards high sugar and high salt options because of the lack of health claims on pack.
He added that if manufacturers were able to say more about health benefits associated with grains and other ingredients, there would be an "extraordinary" change in the marketplace.
“Unfortunately in Europe, the market is so dumbed down by the heavy hand of EFSA, you end up with a tendency on the part of cereal makers to aim at taste as the sole distinguishing characteristic, rather than health.”
US has 'a little more market freedom'
Emord said fear around use of health claims was not just apparent in Europe, but the US as well, although less so. “In the US, we have a little more market freedom and therefore more definition. There is also a greater sub-category of consumers dedicated to purchasing health-enhancing cereal.”
The attorney said that while the regulatory regime in the US under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not as heavy-handed as EFSA, manufacturers still operated in fear of the robust regulations.
For more in-depth analysis on the use of health claims in cereals marketed to children, click HERE.