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EC not phased by 20,000-plus health claims

By Shane Starling , 26-Feb-2008

The European Commission insists it is on track with the process of tabulating the thousands of health claim petitions submitted to it by member states and European trade organisations, but industry sources are not so optimistic.

Although no official figure has been released it is estimated the Commission has upwards of 20,000 in its Inbox, however many of these are duplicates, which should reduce the size of the claims database the Commission is compiling to send to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). "The Commission intends to send the consolidated list as soon as possible in order to give EFSA sufficient time to carry out the scientific assessment, and also to leave enough time for the Comitology procedure afterwards," EC health spokesperson, Haravgi-Nina Papadoulaki told NutraIngredients.com. Patrick Coppens, executive director of the Belgium-based industry group, the European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA) said it was unknown how many claims would eventually be sent to EFSA. "If, by conservative measures, they send 2000 claims then EFSA has about 2000 months of work because each claim will take about a month's work to investigate," he said. "A rationalisation is going to have to occur and that may involve pragmatically calling in experts in the field to rubber stamp certain claims that are generally regarded as being creditable with sound scientific backing. But that may go against the scientific honour of those at EFSA so again, the situation is not clear." Coppens stated that unless EFSA was able to call in substantial resources, he doubted it would be able meet the Regulation's official January 31, 2010 deadline to process all claims. Times and tables According to its own timetable, the Commission is due to send the first batch of claims for assessment by EFSA in May. It has called in member state assistance to fast-track the compilation of the claims database which had been complicated by some member states submitting claims in their own languages. Germany alone submitted more than 10,000 claims while Slovenia submitted only nine, a discrepancy that has more to do with the claims policies of the country's food agencies than the relative state of their own functional foods and supplements markets, although this is also relevant given the size of the German market in comparison to Slovenia's. Elizabeta Micovic, spokesperson at the Sector for Safety and Health Suitability of Food at the Slovenian Ministry of Health, told NutraIngredients.com that Slovenia passed only nine claims to EFSA despite receiving 150 claims from its industry. The streamlining occurred because it scrutinised a centralised list of about 776 claims submitted by the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries in the EU (CIAA) and European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM) and removed any duplicates. "We didn't see the point in submitting in areas already covered by the CIAA list," Micovic said. "Other submissions were inappropriate or the evidence was insubstantial so in the end we submitted only nine claims." Others like Germany (10848 submissions) and Finland (1040) have left such sifting to the Commission's list compilers.

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