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EU health claim regulations 'devastating' business: Poll

By Shane Starling , 02-May-2014
Last updated on 03-May-2014 at 00:26 GMT

Vitafoods' Chris Lee: “The NHCR has banned 100s of claims on products that consumers across Europe have been familiar and comfortable with for years.
Vitafoods' Chris Lee: “The NHCR has banned 100s of claims on products that consumers across Europe have been familiar and comfortable with for years."

The European Union nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) – fully implemented 18 months ago – is “devastating” business as many doomsayers predicted it would, according to a new poll.

84% of food and nutrition sector stakeholders said the controversial law was just as devastating as they expected it to be when it was written into EU lawbooks at the end of 2006. Only 16% thought it was less devastating in the Vitafoods Europe poll.

The law was intended to clarify healthy food and food supplement marketing by standardising scientific data required to back claims, but it has been criticised for employing draconian, pharmaceutical-like trial demands considered inappropriate for foodstuffs and nutrients.

Under the NHCR, terms like probiotics and antioxidants have been banned across the EU’s 28 member states in product labelling and marketing, contributing to marginal sector decline.

Chris Lee

Chris Lee

“The results of this poll highlight the issues the industry is facing and the long-term impact the regulation might have,” said Vitafoods Europe portfolio director, Chris Lee.

“The NHCR has banned 100s of claims on products that consumers across Europe have been familiar and comfortable with for years. Claims such as 'dietary fibre helps maintain a healthy digestive system' and 'glucosamine helps maintain joints' are both well understood.”

“To ban these, and claims like them, not only prevents our industry from developing products based on well-documented science, but also causes confusion in the minds of our consumers.”

Price senstivity

Another Vitafoods poll found price was an even bigger barrier to growth, as supply chain pricing is challenged, especially from developing world markets.

89% of respondents said European suppliers and manufacturers needed to reduce prices to stay competitive, especially with recent wild fluctuations in raw materials pricing.

“These results should not come as a great surprise to the industry,” said Lee.

“We have known for some time that one of the key USPs of the emerging nations is their ability to manufacture at lower costs, so it is not entirely unexpected. However, whilst the European sector is unlikely to be able to compete on a level playing field price-wise, it needs to find alternative ways to make its offer more appealing.”     

4% of respondents thought investing more in R&D or strengthening export strategies would boost competition with emerging nations. 

Only 3% said developing new ingredients would bring a competitive advantage.

Educational seminars and debates around health claims will feature at Vitafoods Europe when the show kicks off on Tuesday, May 6.

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