Danone withdraws health claims on yoghurts

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This article is part of our special report Food & Responsible Marketing.

French food group Danone withdrew health claim applications on two of its bestselling yoghurts on Thursday (15 April), citing confusion about what scientific evidence was required from the company under the process to validate the claims.

The world's largest maker of yoghurts said it would remove from a European review two applications on health claims it makes on Activia and Actimel.

Activia is a yoghurt that Danone claims "aids digestion", and its dairy drink Actimel is claimed to help "strengthen the body's defences".

The decision comes as several brokers recently voiced concern that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) might reject Danone's health claims, saying this could hurt the group's image and stock price.

EFSA is the responsible EU body for verifying the scientific substantiation of the submitted claims.

Danone can still print the health claims on Activia and Actimel, but it has stopped advertising the claims in some countries, including France and Britain.

The outcome of the EFSA review is closely watched by investors, as validation of Danone's health claims would be a strong marketing tool for the company, whose strategy focuses on well differentiated dairy brands with a health proposition, sold often at a higher price.

Chief Financial Officer Pierre-Andre Terisse said that Danone's decision to eventually re-apply for the health claims would depend on whether the EFSA's requirements to validate the claims were sufficiently clarified at a meeting slated for 1 June.

For Danone, the EFSA review process has not been a smooth road. In April 2009, it already withdrew its applications regarding Activia and Actimel as there was confusion about what data the EFSA needed. Danone filed new applications covering the two products late last year and early this year.

EU decision-makers adopted a regulation on the use of nutrition and health claims for foods in December 2006. The regulation lays down harmonised EU-wide rules for the use of such claims on foodstuffs based on nutrient profiles. One of the key objectives of the EU law is to prevent unfounded claims on food packages.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Food packages often carry health or nutritional claims, such as 'reduces cholesterol' or 'low fat'. Some of these claims can be misleading to consumers who cannot interpret the more scientific nutritional tables.

EU legislation on health and nutrition claims made on food, which entered into force in July 2007, introduced procedures for the substantiation of claims and restricted the use of certain types of claim.

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