A further crackdown on health claims, i.e. the ability to indicate the health benefits of certain foodstuffs, could be on its way from the European Court of Justice. After the excessive restrictions already imposed by the European Commission over the years, the EU Court’s Advocate General is exacerbating the situation, asserting that information concerning nutritional and health claims about food must comply with the strict requirements of reg. EC 1924/06, the so-called health claims regulation, even if it is intended exclusively for professionals, such as health food stores and over-the-counter drug-stores, doctors, nutritionists, beauticians or sports centres and so on.
Health claim regulations
This issue has already caused a great deal of controversy and looks set to cause even more. The European regulation (reg. EC 335/08) already stipulates that a request for authorisation to use a health claim must be accompanied by scientific evidence even more stringent than that required for pharmaceuticals. “Fiendish requirements the burden of which has caused the collapse of research into probiotics and functional foods in Europe, both in SMEs and in large industrial groups, causing the end of funding for public and private research into so-called functional foods, and more generally, into the link between the consumption of certain foods – including traditional ones – and health”, says lawyer Dario Dongo, an expert on food legislation and founder of GIFT – Great Italian Food Trade and FARE – Food and Agriculture Requirements, publishing a vitriolic response to the conclusions reached by the EU Court of Justice’s Advocate General in case C-19/15.
A dangerous precedent
The background to the decision now pending in the court of Luxembourg is disconcerting. The Advocate General is trying to arbitrarily bend the regulation on Nutrition and Health Claims (NHC), in order to extend its application far beyond its scope. Right before the European Court of Justice, the institution in charge of monitoring compliance with legislation. This is a case that risks setting a dangerous precedent. In the words of Dario Dongo, “A blunder by the Court”.
The case that lit the touchpaper
The matter first came up as a national suit in Germany, in which a German manufacturer of food supplements, Innova Vital GmbH, had sent a letter to doctors highlighting the value of its vitamin D3 product in reducing the risks of various illnesses.
A normal act, except that this time it was opposed by the trade association Verband Sozialer Wettewerb, which took the company to court for unfair competition, claiming that their act violated the European regulation regarding such matters.
In taking this matter from Bavaria to Luxembourg, the outcome of the ruling could force European operators in the sector to revise their projects, materials and commercial practices, effective immediately.
For a more in-depth analysis, see Dario Dongo‘s full article.