Nutrition and health claims12 January 2010
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 12 January 2010
Nutrition and health claims which encourage consumers to purchase a product, but are false, misleading or not scientifically proven are prohibited. The aim is to improve protection of consumers’ health and rights. European legislation has created a list of nutrition and health claims and the conditions for their authorisation which applies throughout the EU.
Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods.
Advertising based on a nutrition or health claim which is misleading or false may adversely affect the health of consumers by encouraging them to consume a food or type of food, or by dissuading them from doing so. Authorised claims are included in a harmonised list applicable throughout the EU.
Each claim is defined using precise and quantifiable values. The Annex to the Regulation lists various claims, including “low energy”, “with no added sugars”, “light/lite” and “high fibre”.
The legislation on nutrition and health claims protects consumers by prohibiting any information which:
- is false, difficult to understand or misleading (e.g. which attributes medicinal properties to food wrongly or without scientific evidence);
- casts doubt on the safety or nutritional adequacy of other foods (comparative advertising);
- encourages or condones excessive consumption of a product;
- encourages consumption of a product by stating or suggesting directly or indirectly that a balanced diet does not provide all the nutrients that are needed;
- attempts to scare consumers by mentioning changes in bodily functions.
The Regulation supplements the general Directive 2000/13/EC relating to labelling and prohibiting the use of information that may mislead the consumer.
The Regulation applies to all nutrition and health claims including:
- commercial communications (labelling, presentation and promotional campaigns);
- trade marks and other brand names which may be construed as nutrition or health claims.
It applies to claims relating to all types of food intended for final consumers, including:
- foods intended for supply to hospitals, canteens etc.;
- foods supplied without packaging or loose.
The Regulation does not apply to claims relating to the adverse effects of a product.
Conditions of use
Claims must meet certain conditions if they are to be used as advertising on a food. The substance (e.g. vitamins, fibres, etc.) must be present in sufficient quantity to have beneficial effects. If it is claimed that a food is energy-reduced, the energy value must be reduced by at least 30% of the total energy content of the food (25% in the case of salt).
Claims relating to beverages containing more than 1.2% of alcohol by volume are prohibited, with the exception of claims which refer to a reduction in the alcohol or energy content of an alcoholic beverage.
Health claims and labelling
If a health claim is made, the nutrition labelling requirements of Directive 90/496/EEC must be applied. Labelling must therefore include:
- the energy value;
- the quantities of proteins, carbohydrates, sugars, fats, saturates, fibres and sodium.
Claims concerning food supplements (vitamins, minerals and others) must also be contained in the labelling, in accordance with Directive 2002/46/EC.
Labelling and promotional campaigns including health claims must provide certain compulsory information:
- the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle;
- the quantity of the food and pattern of consumption which will ensure the claimed beneficial effect;
- details of persons who should avoid the substance concerned;
- details of the health risks caused by excessive consumption.
The Regulation prohibits health claims which refer to the rate or amount of weight loss or suggest it is detrimental to health not to consume a certain type of food, references to an individual doctor or health professional or to associations other than national medical associations and health-related charities, and claims which suggest that health could be affected by not consuming the food.
However, by way of derogation from Directive 2000/13/EC on labelling (which prohibits any reference to properties for the prevention, treatment or cure of a human disease), the Regulation authorises claims concerning the reduction of the risk of a disease, provided that an application for authorisation has been approved (see below).
Application for authorisation
To obtain authorisation for a new claim or amend the existing list, the manufacturer must submit an application to the Member State concerned, which will forward it to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The Commission then makes a decision on the use of the claim on the basis of the EFSA’s opinion.
Key terms used in the act
Claim: any message or representation, which is not mandatory under Community or national legislation, including pictorial, graphic or symbolic representation, in any form, which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular characteristics;
Nutrition claim: any claim which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular beneficial nutritional properties;
Health claim: any claim that states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between a food category, a food or one of its constituents and health;
Nutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fibres, sodium, vitamins and minerals listed in the Annex to Directive 90/496/EEC, and substances which belong to or are components of one of those categories.
Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006
Entry into force: 19.1.2007
Date for transposition in the Member States: 1.7.2007
Official Journal: OJ L 404 of 30.12.2006
Regulation (EC) No 353/2008 of 18 April 2008 establishing implementing rules for applications for autorisation of health claims as provided for in Article 15 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council [Official Journal L 109, 19.4.2008].
The Regulation identifies the conditions for establishing an application for authorisation of health claims. Each application for authorisation may only deal with one health claim. It includes a description of the type of health claim, a proposal for the wording, specific conditions for use and scientific data which justifies the health claim.
Regulation (EC) No 1925/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on the addition of vitamins and minerals and of certain other substances to foods [Official Journal L 404 of 30.12.2006].
This Regulation prohibits the addition of vitamins and minerals to fresh foods and beverages containing more than 1.2% by volume of alcohol. Certain traditional alcoholic beverages containing such substances are authorised, provided that no nutrition claims are made.