HomelabelsApproved by

Approved by

Sometimes it happens to learn on the label that a certain product is'Approved by'an association of doctors or nutritionists, or a charity. This is the case, for example, of chewing gum they receive a endorsement - that is, a recommendation - from the association of Italian dentists. What rules apply?

Nutrition & Health Claims, the introduction

Any news that you suggest, albeit implicitly, a favorable relationship between the consumption of a food - or a category of it, or a substance contained therein - and the consumer's health (even if only from a nutritional point of view) qualifies as a health or nutritional claim.

The rules must therefore be applied European on Nutrition & Health Claims. (1) Which, in the first place, require compliance:

- of the claim nutritional, under the general conditions established in the mandatory list in the Annex to reg. CE 1924/06,

- of the claim health, under the conditions provided for only the words authorized in the reg. EU 432/12 and subsequent amendments.

The NHC regulation it also requires compliance with general information principles, (2) which include a series of prohibitions:

- on false, ambiguous and misleading information,

- on 'raise doubts about the safety and / or nutritional adequacy of other foods’,

- from 'encourage or tolerate excessive consumption of an item‘,

- from 'suggest (…) that a balanced and varied diet cannot generally provide adequate amounts of all nutrients’,

- to refer, with texts and images, 'to changes in bodily functions that could arouse or exploit fears in the consumer'. (3)

claim nutritional and health they are also subject to general conditions, (4) which govern the relevance of the news for human health and nutrition, in relation to the quantities of food that can reasonably be consumed in the context of a balanced diet. The bioavailability - where appropriate - of the substances it is proud of. At the scientific and analytical foundation of the affirmations. And to the comprehensibility of the news, to be referred to the consumption of the product according to the indications offered.

'Approved by', conditions of use

The indispensable premise for the use of any form of endorsement by doctors, nutritionists or voluntary associations - in commercial information (labels, advertisements, websites and social networks) - is represented by the fact that the product possesses the requisites and actually carries (on the label, at least) a claim nutritional or healthy in accordance with the rules mentioned in the previous paragraph. (5)

'' National associations of professionals from the fields of medicine, nutrition or dietetics and voluntary associations. In the absence of specific Community rules relating to recommendations or endorsements by national associations of professionals in the fields of medicine, nutrition or dietetics or by voluntary associations, the relevant national rules may be applied in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty '(Reg . CE 1924/06, article 11).

Il Ministry of Health, in a specific circular, (6) indicated the criteria to be followed to verify the legitimacy of the endorsement above:

A) analysis of compliance of the information provided with the rules in force on Nutrition & Health Claims,

B) verification of the national representativeness requirements of the professional association infields of medicine, nutrition or dietetics’,

C) in the case of simple claims such as'recommended by ... ', ‘recommended by ...'or the application of the association's logo'it will be required, during the control, to provide proof of the tests carried out in support of the attestation '.

The presence of a claim nutritional or health care in compliance with European rules is therefore a necessary but not sufficient condition to legitimize the certification of specialist medical or voluntary associations. Which in turn cannot limit themselves to 'taking note' of the existence of an authorized indication to grant theirs endorsement, usually as a result of generous donations. 

The attestation it must instead be the result of a specific assessment by the issuing body. Which must operate according to a specific code of conduct, pursuant to article 27-until of the Consumer Code, (7) and verify the actual validity of the information on the label.

The outline advertisements must not in any way mislead or result 'particularly suggestive'for the average consumer. On these premises, the Ministry of Health reiterated the 'need to apply the aforementioned discipline with the utmost rigor'.

Some bad examples are mentioned in the food review of the Antitrust. ‘Approved by the Italian Pediatric Doctors Association', 2008, a fine of 695 thousand euros. 'Italian Society of General Medicine' is 'Italian Society of Cardiology' for Danone Danacol and Unilever ProActiv, 2009 (€ 300 and € 100 thousand, respectively). 'Italian Federation of General Practitioners' for Uliveto e rock, 2013 (with fines of € 100.000 to the operator, € 30.000 to FIMG), then sanctioned in 2014 for the support of AIGO gastroenterologists and UCL urologists

Dario Dongo

Footnotes to the story

(1) See reg. CE 1924/06, reg. EU 432/12 and subsequent amendments

(2) See reg. CE 1924/06, article 3

(3) The images of the subject '(overweight or obese) before and (threadlike) after' the 'treatment' with foods or pseudo-dietary supplements that still crowd the web and local TV are therefore strictly prohibited

(4) As per article 5 of reg. CE 1924/06

(5) 'Reference to general and non-specific benefits of the nutrient or food for overall good health or well-being resulting from the state of health is allowed only if accompanied by a specific claim'(EC reg. 1924/06, art. 10.3). A health claim, according to the letter of the regulation. Or at least a claim nutritional - to which they are often attributable 'health claims', in the widespread interpretation

(6) Cf. Circular Min. Ps. DGSAN 21.2.2011 n. 4748

(7) See Legislative Decree 206/05, art. 27-untilCodes of conduct

'1. Associations or business and professional organizations may adopt, in relation to one or more commercial practices or to one or more specific business sectors, specific codes of conduct that define the behavior of professionals who undertake to comply with these codes with the indication of the responsible party or body in charge of monitoring their application. 

 2. The code of conduct is drawn up in Italian and English and is made accessible to the consumer by the person or body responsible, even electronically. 

3. In drafting codes of conduct, at least the protection of minors must be guaranteed and human dignity safeguarded. 

4. The codes of conduct referred to in paragraph 1 are communicated, for the relative adhesion, to the operators of the respective sectors and kept and updated by the person in charge of the code, with the indication of the adherents. 

5. The professional must inform consumers in advance of the existence of the code of conduct, its contents and adherence. '

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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