The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published its scientific evaluations of 2,758 of health claims for the marketing of foods. Only one fifth of these claims were ultimately approved. The evaluations form part of the EU's strategy for encouraging consumers to make informed choices in their diet.
Rejected claims include those where beneficial effects to humans lacked evidence, such as some foods claiming "antioxidant properties" or easing "renal water elimination". Similarly, vague claims such as assertions of added "energy" and "vitality" were rejected.
But not all food products marketed as good for health fall in this category. Professor Albert Flynn, who chaired the panel in charge of reviewing the claims, said in a press release that EFSA's independent evaluation had concluded that a considerable number of claims made on foods "are backed by sound science, including claims related to a wide range of health benefits."
Claimed that were approved by EFSA as scientifically-grounded included those on certain fibers and blood cholesterol, walnuts and improved functioning of blood vessels, and the enhanced sports performance through carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks.
Ruth Veale, a senior official with the Brussels-based consumers group the BEUC, reacted positively to EFSA's evaluations, saying that EFSA had lived up to "gold standard" for assessing claims and had "really stuck to the science on this."
"The burden of proof should be on industry to prove what it claims on the tin. These evaluations are beneficial for companies that invest heavily in science to prove their claims," she added.
EFSA's evaluations may lead to an effective EU-wide ban on claims in advertising and packaging for food it does not deem substantiated. However, this would likely not occur until next year, following consultation and approval of the European Commission, the Parliament and member countries.
EU officials were keen to stress that this could not lead to a ban on specific products but only of claims of them considered misleading or unsubstantiated.
EFSA's work has sometimes been controversial. MEPs have notably criticised the agency for allegedly being too close to the private sector and for its evaluations of genetically-modified organisms.