By Adam Smith

Science & Communications Officer, ANH-Intl

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) clearly knows something the rest of us don’t. The current population of the Earth is nearly 7 billion people, and barring infants and the insane – both of which groups could be said to be aware of the situation, but unable to put it into words – it’s a fairly safe bet that all of them know that drinking water prevents dehydration and maintains bodily performance. But the latest EFSA ruling on health claims disagrees – and could actively prevent anyone in the European Union (EU) from saying as much!

...Breaking News!

It now seems that this ridiculous EFSA ruling may be challenged in the courts! See below article for more details

An uncontroversial proposal

Two German professors submitted a disease-specific health claim to EFSA under Article 14 of the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR) (Regulation No. 1924/2006). The wording of the claim was “regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant [subsequent] decrease of performance”. As a sentient being reading these words, you’re doubtless thinking how uncontroversial this claim is. How could anyone possibly disagree with that statement?

Let’s ask EFSA.

Preparing the ground

The decision paper begins well. “The food, water, which is the subject of the health claim, is sufficiently characterized”, says EFSA. Good, well done, carry on. (We should point out here that EFSA is arguably wrong here, as well: ask any homeopath, or anyone versed in the writings of Viktor Schauberger, and they would tell you that water is one of the most mysterious and least-understood substances on the planet!) Although the two professors did not specify a target population, EFSA was awake enough to determine that the target population was the general population.

Next, EFSA gives its definitions of some key terms and concepts. Reduction of disease-risk claims are “claims which state that the consumption of a food significantly reduces a risk factor in the development of a human disease”. Also, the beneficial physiological effect that the NHCR requires to be proven in order to allow the claim – in this case, dehydration – “results from the reduction of a risk factor for the development of a human disease”.

So far, so logical and sensible. **ANH WARNING** Readers of a sensitive nature, or who have problems with high blood pressure, should look away now.

Tortured logic

The EFSA Panel tasked with evaluating this health claim asked the applicant to define what their risk factors for dehydration were. Their reply was “water loss in tissues”, or “reduced water content in tissues”, reduction of which the applicants proposed would limit the risk of the development of dehydration.

At this point, the drugs must have kicked in, because the EFSA panel decided that the proposed risk factors – “water loss in tissues” and “reduced water content in tissues” – are not risk factors, but measures of water depletion. As such, they are measures of the disease in question, dehydration! Therefore, “the proposed claim does not comply with the requirements for a disease risk reduction claim pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006.”

EFSA 1, sanity 0

With this decision, EFSA has taken the whole area of health claims regulation into the realms of the absurd. How anyone, especially the highly educated scientists on the EFSA Panel, can with a straight face decide that water does not reduce the risk of dehydration, we have no idea. Apparently, enacting Napoleonic law and preventing EU citizens from even speaking aloud any health claims not approved by its all-powerful hand is not enough; now, EFSA appears determined to use bizarre logic to brand one of the most fundamental truths on our planet as unspeakable. Even its previous low-water mark, its negative decision on glucosamine based on the fact that studies were performed in patients with osteoarthritis, rather than healthy people, does not even come close.

It may be that the two German professors who initiated this claim did so to highlight how ridiculous the NHCR and EFSA’s decisions on health claims have become. After all, they have no product to sell, and making health claims about water seems of little more than academic interest. If this is the case – well done, fellas! You’ve succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.


Update: EFSA may now be sued over this ruling

It has now been revealed that the submission of this health claim by the German professors was indeed intended as a means of testing the limits of the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR). The professors, who are also lawyers, have now informed NutraIngredients that the EFSA ruling is unconvincing, and that it is more than likely that they will sue.

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