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Medicine on a plate - Stricter rules on labelling will help people choose health-giving foods

点击量:   时间:2017-09-11 05:01:14

By Andy Coghlan FOOD producers in Britain who falsely claim that their products have medical benefits could soon meet their nemesis. Consumer groups have joined forces with the food industry and trading standards officers to draft a code to police the claims made for “functional foods”. Many manufacturers of low-fat margarines, for instance, like to claim that their products can reduce cholesterol levels in the blood and help ward off heart disease. Some of these claims are backed by scientific evidence. But there are no laws to prevent unscrupulous companies making bogus health claims for their products in the absence of any evidence. Two years ago, British consumer groups and companies developing genuine functional foods realised that they had a shared interest in outlawing the charlatans, and joined forces to draft a code. They hope that their consensus document could rapidly translate into national, European and even global laws governing health claims for food products. The draft code, which is being launched in Britain this week by a consumer group called the National Food Alliance, demands peer-reviewed scientific evidence for any health claims. “I think it could provide the blueprint for European legislation,” says Roger Manley, chief trading standards officer at Cheshire County Council and deputy chairman of the Food Advisory Committee, which briefs the British government on food safety. “All the indications are that it will be well received by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and we think it will strongly influence the shape of any European directive on functional foods,” says Manley, who led the initiative to draft the code. The code recommends the creation of an independent scientific committee to judge evidence put forward by companies wanting to make a health claim. The committee would adopt the American system of drawing up a list of “generic claims”—agreed phrases about the benefits of ingredients that can be used to promote products containing them. It would also consider health claims for specific ingredients, such as a strain of bacteria added to yoghurt to aid digestion. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved 11 generic claims. The most recent, agreed last month, relates to fibre from the seed husks of psyllium, a type of plantain. If foods contain the fibre, manufacturers can claim that “soluble fibre from psyllium seed husk in this product, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol,