The UK Department of Health (DoH) has issued health claims guidance that makes it clear official European Union wordings are flexible but warns companies not to go too far.
Belgium has also issued guidance where it too said flexibility was paramount in allowing the EU claims system to function well and clearly across 27 member states with 500m people.
“European Commission legislation authorising health claims provides for some flexibility of wording of the claims with the aim of helping consumer understanding,” said Dr Vivien Lund from the DoH Nutrition Legislation Team in the Nutrition Science and Delivery, Health and Wellbeing Division.
Dr Lund said 17 EU member states have recently, “informally agreed some recommendations on the general principles to be taken into account by businesses if they adapt the wording of an authorised health claim.”
The DoH said, “In general, we recommend that [businesses] stick as closely as possible to the authorised wording of health claims.”
The UK guidance is likely to be closely replicated in Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal and Sweden.
The European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA) has also issued a guidance document.
But when changes to tight claim wordings were being contemplated, the key was avoiding exaggeration.
“If the wording of a health claim is adjusted, the first principle to be respected is that the adapted wording must mean the same to a consumer as the authorised claim in the Register since this has been substantiated by scientific evidence.”
“It is important that the adapted wording of the claim demonstrates the same relationship between a food category, a food or one of its constituents and health.”
“In practice, this means that a claim must not be made ‘stronger’ than the authorised claim. It is important that the health claim wording is not adapted into a medicinal claim. It is also important that the claim must not be presented such that it becomes misleading.”
"Ultimately, an FBO should be able to justify that the adapted wording has the same meaning as the relevant authorised claim in the Register and that it still reflects the scientific evidence by which the authorised claim was substantiated."
The guidance noted that claims were made for the, "nutrient, substance, food or food category for which they have been authorised and not for the product".
So while nutrient X may contribute to the normal function of the immune system it does not follow that product Y would.
From the NHCR bible
The EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) in recital 9 states: “Where the wording of claims has the same meaning for consumers as that of a permitted health claim, because it demonstrates the same relationship that exists between a food category, a food or one of its constituents and health, the claims should be subject to the same conditions of use indicated for the permitted health claims.”