EU law gives go ahead for health claims by food processing giants

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A new generation of foods and drinks designed to help reduce cancers and heart disease are set to appear on Britain's supermarket shelves.

A new European law will now allow food companies to make dramatic claims about the health-giving effects of their brands.

Manufacturers are currently barred from claiming that a food can help prevent or treat illness, but are now planning to turn "functional foods" into a multibillion-pound industry.

In advance of the new measures, major food companies are developing scores of new breakfast cereals, fruit and vegetable juices, dairy products and drinks. They will claim that these foods will cut heart disease, treat obesity, reduce allergies and fight off infections, cut the risks of osteoporosis and joint disorders, and even help to prevent bowel or prostate cancers.

Industry experts predict the new powers, expected to come into force as early as next year, will lead to an "explosion" in the marketing of these so-called "functional foods" by manufacturing giants such as Danone and Nestlé.

The market is already the fastest-growing part of the foods and drinks industry, with sales leaping by 46 per cent last year to £350m in the wake of intensive TV and billboard ad campaigns.

The market analyst TNS claims sales of probiotic yoghurts - which contain high levels of so-called "friendly bacteria" - grew by more than 80 per cent last year.

The new powers are proposed in a controversial EU regulation going through the European Parliament and Council of Europe to control "nutrition and health claims" made for foods.

The regulation will set stringent rules to control the use of health claims - at the expense of small farmers and food firms. Some science dossiers cost up to £250,000 and take several years to complete.

The Commission claims the measures will protect consumers from being duped, and are likely to mean that products making unproven claims will have to be relabelled or taken off the shelves.

Instead, firms will have to submit a detailed scientific dossier to the European Food Safety Authority, which will test whether the health claims are proven. Wealthy food giants such as Danone or niche producers such as Yakult are already drafting scientific dossiers on scores of existing and new products.

The Soil Association, which represents Britain's organic farms and food firms, said the measures will strengthen the "ready meals" industry.