IPA Europe priorities and recommendations for a holistic approach on probiotics in Europe, for informed consumers and a sustainable food industry

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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The European Union enters a new and challenging period, where the policy makers play a decisive role in putting food at the centre of their policies. This will mean preparing a European industrial strategy with the goal of safeguarding the world leadership of the European food industry and continuing to offer high quality products to European consumers.

With the “Manifesto on probiotics in the EU, for informed consumers and a sustainable food industry”, IPA Europe, representing the European industry of probiotic food and food supplements,  is committed to promote accurate information on probiotics and to build a coherent framework to create favourable conditions to uphold the competitiveness, quality and sustainability of the probiotic foods and food supplements industry.

To do that, IPA Europe claims for a holistic approach, that meets the objectives of the European Farm To Fork strategy. To lead the way towards sustainable food systems worldwide, we need a positive environment for European food businesses to thrive, with fair conditions for all companies.

IPA Europe priorities and recommendations

Framing the use of the term ‘probiotic’, under appropriate criteria and conditions, is a necessary step towards the interest of European consumers and the  functioning of the EU Internal Market.

IPA Europe recommends to provide useful guidance for stakeholders and for consumers on the use of the term “probiotic” in food, beverage and dietary supplements.  This will require  to revise the EC Guidance of 2007, which indicates that the term “probiotic” should be regarded as a health claim, and to work instead on a solution that does not contradict the spirit of the EU Regulatory framework, in making a distinction between the probiotic category and the specific health claim requirements.

The EC guidance of 2007 leads to inconsistent situations, and ultimately confuses consumers. It also creates a disruption of the EU Internal Market, while at the same time e-commerce sites offer products labelled with “contains probiotics”, without any apparent control on the quality of the products themselves.

There is an urgent need to discuss the challenges and adapt the current EU framework to this dynamic sector. A gradual approach should be developed with different levels of claims strength, relating to the different level of supporting science evidence.

The European probiotic sector needs robust research and innovation, to become again the driving force for innovative products that add value to human wellbeing, and to contribute to the growth of the European economy.

The European probiotic industry operates in a highly competitive market. The use of the term “probiotics”, with clear and appropriate conditions of use, will allow the consumers to make an informed choice that authorities can verify, using some simple criteria to distinguish probiotics from other live microorganisms. This could then also be applied to e-commerce products.

Defining better the categories is a prerequisite to differentiate “what probiotic is” from “what probiotic does”. In addition to that, a panel of solutions can be considered, within the current EU regulatory framework, defining appropriate guidelines and criteria where needed.

IPA Europe considers that this is an area where a harmonised approach at EU level can have an added value, and therefore requests to work together with the European Commission and the Member State Authorities to find the most appropriate solutions.

It is crucial to create a labelling environment that the consumers can trust, and which will allow the consumer to make an informed choice.

Building a comprehensive framework will result in trustable information on the label and communication to consumers and customers. This will also enable elaborating consistent and harmonized rules that meet the objective indicated by the Commissioner Stella Kyriakides of “having consistent rules in the EU, ensuring that legitimate demands for more information remain compatible with our single market” and “to look into how we can improve consumer information, starting with the possibilities that exist under the current legal framework”.

Probiotics and the “Farm to Fork” strategy

In the context of the EC “Farm to Fork” strategy, IPA Europe welcomes the objective of improving the information on food, based on good practices and experiences.

Building a sustainable food system requires a holistic approach. The conclusions of this review should result in a more consistent approach with regulatory and non-regulatory measures in relation to probiotics that will meet the interest of the European consumers of being informed and make responsible choice.

Considering the global dimension of trade.

IPA Europe considers that the development of international guidelines within the Codex Alimentarius and with the WHO is necessary to sustain quality probiotic products on a global scale, and to ensure fair practices in food trade.

IPA Europe supports starting new work to establish a definition with minimum characterization requirements, as well as quality and labelling parameters for probiotics for use as an ingredient in food and dietary supplements, on aspects not framed by existing Codex standards

Healthy and sustainable diet to meet the expectations of consumers to have a better quality of life.

Probiotics are currently one of the most popular topics in the field of science and food industry. The situation in the EU should be apprehended by using a combined approach involving regulatory, economic, social and scientific means.

Fostering a favourable environment for probiotics will not only benefit the serious and innovative industry in Europe, but also European consumers. This will contribute to substantial costs saving from a societal perspective, and will help to promote a better quality of life.

IPA Europe

IPA Europe is the European chapter of IPA, the International Probiotics Association; it was established in Brussels in 2015. IPA Europe, with the partner organisation IPA, reach together a platform of over 100 member companies in 29 countries.

The members of IPA Europe are companies directly engaged in the manufacture of probiotic cultures or probiotic foods, supplements, nutritionals or therapeutic products: BioGaia, Chr. Hansen, Danone, DuPont, IPA, Lallemand, Lesaffre, Probi, Yakult.

The IPA Europe mission is to gain the acceptance of the term “probiotic” throughout Europe as a defined category, and to create a favourable environment for probiotics in Europe.

IPA Europe, representing the European Probiotic Industry, can provide a valid contribution as a trusted resource for all those seeking information on probiotics.

In promoting effective, truthful and professional communication to all stakeholders,  IPA Europe contributes to a Europe of healthy citizens, able to make informed choices about high quality and sustainable probiotics food and food supplements, produced by competitive and innovative European companies.

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