Functional Ingredients: A Simpler Burden of Proof

11 Nov 2014

Functional ingredients lend foodstuffs energy boosting, health promoting or disease prevention properties. As supplements they are great in a number of situations. For example: Where lifestyle choices do not permit a diet that is replete in all necessary micronitrients Where economic constraints limit access to good nutrition, especially in the developing world Where climate lessens […]

Functional Ingredients: A Simpler Burden of Proof

Functional ingredients lend foodstuffs energy boosting, health promoting or disease prevention properties. As supplements they are great in a number of situations. For example:

  • Where lifestyle choices do not permit a diet that is replete in all necessary micronitrients
  • Where economic constraints limit access to good nutrition, especially in the developing world
  • Where climate lessens our ability to consume and/or absorb vital nutrients
  • Where disease or weakness increases our need for supplementary nutrients, especially in the young and the old
  • Where life conditions such as pregnancy increase our need for supplementary nutrients.

 

But in the so-called developing world, where access to nutrients is abundant, why should a healthy adult need extra? Are functional ingredients a cop out? Are they a lazy way of trying to shortcut the route to good health?

The answer is, of course, no. We live in a world of haste where ‘on-the-go’ is not an option but a necessity of modern-day life. The traditional family meal, where all family members sat down together to eat and discuss the day’s events, has sadly all but disappeared. Therefore, we seek alternative solutions to solve our nutritional needs. Unfortunately, we also live in a world of bureaucracy, where functional ingredients must also be proved, in a similar fashion to pharmaceutical products, before they can be ‘EFSA approved’. The route is cumbersome. Is it necessary for all?

It took EFSA an inordinately long time to approve any functional ingredients under article 13.1. It took five years to whittle down 44,000 health claims to a final list of 222 approved ones in 2012 – and the majority were for vitamins. They do no harm, they do some good. Didn’t we know that anyway? Didn’t our parents give us multi-vitamin tabs and/or cod liver oil capsules as a kind of catch-all? (Am I showing my age)?

Is it time for a simpler, two tier system of classification?

 

‘EFSA approved’ is, of course, the gold standard. The important thing is that health claims related to serious health issues should not mislead. Don’t tell someone that an ingredient will lower cholesterol if it won’t. Don’t tell someone that an ingredient will lower blood pressure if it won’t. Don’t tell someone that an ingredient will improve eyesight if it won’t. This is serious stuff. These claims warrant a pharmaceutical-type approach with absolute proof.

 

But is it necessary for all claims to undergo such rigorous EFSA procedures before they can be tentatively introduced to the market?  Shouldn’t there be a lesser burden of proof for some products – products that do not claim to help solve serious health problems, but may help to increase wellbeing? A silver standard?

 

I am seriously interested in your views on this as I believe the workload on companies that produce functional ingredients is becoming increasingly onerous. How can a small-to-medium-sized company break into the market if it has to publish umpteen clinical studies into the effects of its ingredients? If the effect is not something that promises a reduction in risk of a debilitating condition or disease, surely the burden should be less onerous. Where do we draw the line?

 

I will be at the next Hi Europe show in Amsterdam and will be pleased to continue this discussion with you. Just email me at [email protected] and we will fix a time.

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