New Guidance on the wording of health claims

4 January 2013

The Department of Health has released this week informal guidance produced by experts from 17 EU Member States on the key question of how far food businesses can depart from the approved wording of health claims.

This is an important document because some of the approved claims are in very technical language which will be unattractive both to food businesses and to consumers.  Although the terms and conditions of the EU Register of Nutrition and Health Claims explain that some flexibility on wording is possible, the explanation given is pretty limited:

“Some flexibility of wording of the claim is possible provided its aim is to help consumer understanding taking into account factors such as linguistic and cultural variations and the target population. Adapted wording must have the same meaning for the consumer as the authorised claim in the EU Register.”

For food businesses spending huge sums on labelling and advertising foods with health claims, it is important to reduce the risk that a departure from the wording prescribed in the Register for a claim will lead to the authorities in some countries taking enforcement action.

Therefore the adoption of Europe-wide guidance on this topic, whilst not legally binding, in practice give enormous reassurance to food businesses and offers useful assistance to the enforcement authorities about what should, and should not, be regarded as acceptable variations from the approved wording.

It is a great pity that this guidance has come so late – six years after the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation was adopted and several weeks after the end of the transition period covering the introduction of the vast majority of approved health claims.

Generally speaking the guidance is helpful and sensible.  It also has the great merit of being clearly written – and the use of examples is particularly welcome.

Like all guidance of this kind, it needs to be read according to its general intent and spirit and not interpreted like a piece of legislation.   However, so long as one bears that caveat in mind, the production of this guidance document is to be welcomed.


For further information, please contact:

Owen Warnock
Tel: +44 122 322 4282
Owen Warnock
Owen Warnock, Partner
t: +44 1223 22 4282
m: +44 785 089 4177