Are We Too Eager to Produce Health Claims?

July 8, 2011

One researcher says to look at Phosphorus.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA; Parma, Italy) has its hands full when it comes to reviewing health claim applications-especially when dealing with industry backlash when a scientifically substantiated claim is turned down. In some cases, however, a little EFSA resistance might be necessary.

Writing in the journal Food Policy,Igor Pravst of the Nutrition Institute in Slovenia says that an EFSA thumbs-down might protect consumers from exceeding intakes of certain nutrients.

In the case of phosphorus-which already received a positive opinion from EFSA for normal bone and teeth maintenance-EU states now have the power to approve the claim, thus encouraging food companies to fortify their foods with phosphorus.

But Pravst says there is convincing evidence that phosphorus loading may lead to certain health risks, including cardiovascular morality and depressed levels of plasma calcium. And the EU population, he says, is already consuming far less calcium than is recommended.

In 2009, a different claim was authorized in Europe for phosphorus and children’s development, even though there was no clear indication that the population had inadequate phosphorus intake.

So what should be done in the case of phosphorus? Pravst says a good option would be “to authorize the claim with specific conditions of use, i.e. preventing its use in fortified foods and food supplements. This solution would not provide food producers with motives to boost phosphorus content in foods, while they would simultaneously be able to use the claim on foods naturally rich in this nutrient.