• HealthClaimsUnpacked

The EU health claims approval process

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Stacey Lockyer, British Nutrition Foundation



Have you ever worried that health claims that you see on food labels are exaggerated or simply made up? In fact, for over 10 years EU legislation has been in place to prevent companies from using misleading or false health claims on products. Any claims must be authorised before they can be used, and this involves a strict procedure.


Thousands of health claims have been submitted for approval since the Regulations came into force in 2007, but only 261 have been approved to date – therefore getting a health claim approved is tough! A list of both accepted and rejected health claims is available on the European Commission (EC) website.


The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) provides an opinion on proposed claims, including their view on whether or not the claimed effect is really beneficial for health and that there is good enough scientific evidence to show that the food, food component or nutrient causes the claimed effect. The EC then gives final approval, or rejects the claim.


EFSA also considers the wording of the claim suggested by the applicant and may propose alternative wording. If approved, the final wording of the claim is decided by the EC. However, the official wording can be complicated may not be easily understood by consumers and so companies may be able to use more user-friendly wording as long as it doesn’t stray too far from the original.


For example:

Walnuts contribute to the improvement of the elasticity of blood vessels

means the same as

Walnuts contribute to the improvement of endothelium-dependent vasodilation

... since it merely restates the claim in a more user-friendly way.


But:

Vitamin C stimulates the normal function of the immune system

does not mean the same as

Vitamin C contributes to the maintenance of the normal function of the immune system

… since it makes the claim stronger, which is misleading.


The science behind health claims can be really complicated, which is why it is important that it’s assessed by experts. So next time you’re looking at labels on foods and drinks it’s worth checking to see which claims you can spot! Let us know about your experiences by clicking on the Contact Us link above.

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This activity has received funding from EIT Food, the innovation community on Food of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the EU, under the Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.