Photo of the flags outside the European Commission building
Trade associations have joined together to challenge a ban on label health claims on natural products [Image: Xavier Häpe - Wikimedia Commons]

Supplement manufacturers launch legal challenge to restrictions on label claims

6 July, 2012

Natural Health News — If you’ve ever picked up a herbal or nutritional supplement and wondered why the label doesn’t enlighten you as to what its for, there’s some good news.

Two of Europe’s largest natural products industry trade associations, and a number of their member companies, have filed an application in the General Court of the European Union to halt the restrictive list of permitted health claims which effectively outlaws hundreds of other well-established health claims.

The action seeks the annulment of Regulation (EU) No 432/2012, the ‘Permitted List Regulation’, thereby requiring the Commission to go back and correct the flaws in its approach and produce the permitted list more in keeping with the original spirit and intention of the ‘Parent Regulation’, the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation 1924/2006/EC.

The two associations, Natuur- en gezondheidsProducten Nederland (NPN) from the Netherlands and the UK’s Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA), have been joined in the action by NPN member company New Care Supplements b.v. and HFMA members Natures Aid and Quest Vitamins.

A last resort

Martin Last, chair of the HFMA, said: “We are only taking this action as a last resort because the European Commission has failed to respond to our legitimate concerns. From the start we’ve cooperated in good faith to help execute the Health Claims Regulation, but are now very unhappy with the flawed and inappropriate way that both the Commission and EFSA have decided to implement this legislation.

“It is well documented that the Regulation was written to assess and recognise the different types of health claim, and it was never intended to prohibit many hundreds of claims that have been well understood and accepted by the average consumer for decades. Indeed, in a 2007 report by the UK’s Food Standards Agency, we were assured by UK Government officials that most well-established health claims were expected to continue to be allowed on the market.

“The way this Regulation is being implemented risks denying consumers access to the very information that they need, and are increasingly seeking, to help them make informed choices about food and food supplement products, and along the way will particularly damage the many SME companies that the HFMA represents and which the EU states it wishes to protect.”

Failed legislation

Mischa Strijder, chair of NPN, added: “The disastrous implementation of this legislation has failed on several counts. The European Commission failed to provide clear and timely guidance, in fact the first guidance only appeared some 18 months after the deadline for the submission of potential health claims. Then the European Food Safety Authority adopted a pharmaceutical-style approach to the assessment of Article 13.1 claims which is not appropriate for evaluating the long-term, health maintenance benefits of good nutrition.

“As a result, the legislation will not fulfil its aims, it will have a negative effect on the informed choice of consumers for healthy foods, and we foresee a serious negative impact on research and in innovation in this field. Even now that the permitted list has entered into force there is still no clarity on many implementation issues.

“This makes it very difficult for companies to comply with the new regulations for their product labels and advertising, within the extremely short transition period of six months.

“NPN did its best to cope with the level of uncertainty created by the Commission and it is very unfortunate that our efforts to assist the Commission in arriving at a proportionate and fair ‘Permitted List’ were completely disregarded. We hope that the Court will provide the clarity and certainty that the Commission failed to provide.”