The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is wiping the egg – or maybe it should be prune juice – from its collective face after it was forced into an embarrassing reversal of its decision that prunes lack any laxative properties. Unfortunately, its consistent and highly misguided policy over probiotics indicates an agenda to inhibit the sector's growth.

An attack of common sense

Amid stiff competition, one of EFSA's most ridiculous health claims rejections came when it decided, back in October 2011, that eating prunes has no effect on bowel function. Perhaps we shouldn't have been so surprised, though, given that EFSA clearly believes it knows something the rest of us don't.

But even EFSA occasionally sees the error of its ways. Last week, it finally came to its limited senses and approved the famous ‘laxative effect of prunes’ health claim. We can't help thinking that the increased public scrutiny from ANH-Intl and our supporters played a key part in this – a great team effort!

EFSA vs. good science on probiotics

That's where the good EFSA-related news ends, unfortunately. Despite mountains of evidence on probiotics and the recent completion of the Human Microbiome Project, EFSA has just announced – for the second time – that it will approve a grand total of zero health claims for these important substances. The symbiotic relationship that exists between us and our microflora, and maintenance of the delicate balance between desirable and undesirable microbial colonies, is a cornerstone of human health. EFSA appears determined to cripple an entire product sector within natural healthcare that is both profitable and necessary.

However, Italy seems to be showing the way forward for probiotic manufacturers, by allowing certain gut microflora claims as nutrition claims. Perhaps further light can be seen at the end of the tunnel with the introduction of a new EFSA panel, who may think differently about probiotics – should they ever be given the chance. We are forever optimistic.

It’s still a mess

The odd positive aside, then, the EU health claims regime is still very much a mess. While largely meaningless health claims are waved through, causing a ‘dumbing down’ of natural healthcare products that is only set to continue, innovative products and everyday foodstuffs that we know are healthy are left overwhelmingly claim-free. And only big business can afford to access the one and only route to getting a product-specific, disease-risk reduction claim. It feels like the Member States have had this ramshackle NHCR scheme foisted on to them by the EU, despite the very loud and prolonged protest from both consumers and sectors of the industry. Think of a gigantic, tottering farm building made of cheap dry bricks, with no windows and one door, held fast by an unpickable lock – and only a few keys, most of them owned by the members of lobby group Food Drink Europe.

Depressing, isn’t it? Thank goodness we don't take anything lying down and aren't in the habit of just rolling over!

Call to action

  • Educate everyone that you possibly can – your friends, your family and especially your children, if you have them – about the health benefits of foods, dietary supplements, herbs and botanicals. Education is the only way to keep this information alive through the generations!
  • Contact democratic representatives in your country and urge them to take a similar line to Italy in terms of health claims for probiotics
  • If you're a manufacturer or distributor of natural products then keep all health claims allowed under transitional measures until such time as the rejected list is published
  • Keep up the pressure on EFSA to alter its approach to the assessment of claims and implement a lighter regime for Article 13.1 health claims


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