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Bull Acad Natl Med. 2006 Nov;190(8):1663-80; discussion 1680-2.

[Health and nutrition claims made on food: what future?].

[Article in French]

Author information

  • 1Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, 147 rue de l'Université, 75007 Paris.


The number of foods bearing health and nutrition claims is growing in line with consumers' expectations. This market offers attractive prospects of profit for industry and commerce. The question is whether such foods really have health effects, and whether the general population or specific groups really benefit from their use. Specific regulations are needed to define the conditions of validation, communication and follow-up of such claims. The European Community's internal market is currently governed by a fragmented set of regulations and enforcement systems. Member states' national regulations differ in substance and application. For these reasons, the European Commission is seeking to create and adopt a common regulation. The following article considers the main stakes relating to consumers' health expectations, public health, and industrial and commercial interests, together with the origins of the concept of "functional foods". In contrast to the 'product based' approach in other cultures (Japan, North America, etc.), Europe has chosen a 'science based' approach focusing on physiological functions. In particular, Europe funded the FUFOSE program (Functional Food Science in Europe) coordinated by ILSI (International Life Science Institute). The bases of true functional food science are considered--how to identify beneficial interactions between food components and specific body functions, and to understand the underlying mechanisms in order to construct hypotheses for testing on volunteers. A methodology based on biological markers has been developed Europe then funded the PASSCLAIM program (Process for the assessment of scientific support for claims on foods) aimed at identifying relationships between a functional effect (normal or enhanced function) and a health benefit or a reduced risk of disease. Selected aspects of these 10-year programs illustrate the scientific bases for a European regulation of nutrition claims and so-called health claims (improved function and reduced risk of disease). The main points of the proposal are summarized The most important questions are the need for prior authorization of health claims, and the possible banning of any claim on some foods, due to their bad "nutritional profile". This implies that such claims will have to be firmly grounded in science. However, these restraints were contested by the European Parliament, which preferred a simple notification procedure and suppressed the reference to "nutritional profiling" for identifying good and bad foods. These recent political episodes reflect the lobbying aimed at preserving innovation and development, mainly by small companies that are unable to support the cost of heavy research files. In addition, there is no scientific agreement on how to determine the nutritional profile of a given food. However, the Council of Europe restored the initial text, which will again be examined by the European Parliament in the coming months. The author emphasizes the fine line that must be drawn between scientific accuracy and regulatory rigidity when validating nutrition claims, which consumers are only too willing to accept at face value.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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