Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

"Health food" makers should have to prove their claims

Interesting article on the BBC News website today (hattip to Ben Goldacre for drawing my attention to it) about EU regulations that are currently kicking in requiring scientific evidence before food manufacturers can put health claims on their labels.

The regulations are affecting products such as apple cider vinegar for which it is sometimes claimed they help with bowel movements, green tea being good for cholesterol levels (amongst other things) and the various claims that the makers of probiotic yoghurts and drinks make about their effect on the immune system.

The industry seems to be in full special pleading mode judging from the article. This quote from the director general of the International Probiotics Association is fascinating:

"It can take three years to get these kinds of human studies together but in the meantime the claims are going to be wiped away. The regulation is killing this industry and the job losses are already being felt."

I am afraid I have little sympathy. This is one area where I think it is absolutely right that companies are regulated. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence as far as I am concerned. These companies are claiming medicinal benefits for their products. I would wager that a substantial proportion of their sales come from the fact that they make these claims. If they cannot stand them up scientifically then the products should not be allowed to make the claims. If that leads to the companies that make them getting into trouble and people losing their jobs then that is just the way it is I am afraid. They can find employment in other companies that don't make unsubstantiated claims about their products.

As for the complaint that it can take years to get the evidence, I am sure they are correct. But they have known about these regulations for at least four years. They have had plenty of time to get their house in order yet many of them appear to have chosen not to so so. That surprises me. In fact I am surprised they have not already done the scientific studies on their products of their own volition. After all, imagine how many more they will be able to sell with "SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN" plastered all over the labels.

Kind of makes you wonder why they are so reluctant to run the experiments.


Anonymous said...

Hear, Hear. The claims that companies seem to get away with making about various products are ridiculous.

People should be free to make choices about products, but on the basis of reasonable information. And I suppose agreement about what constitutes that 'reasonableness' is the rub...

Bill Quango MP said...

Hypoallergenic. Used in 50's advertising.
Still no official definition.