A word of warning on food labelling laws

2nd December 2020

After the difficult year we've all had, it may seem like the perfect time to market a pick-me-up in the form of a food supplement. We take a look at what you need to be aware of when it comes to food labelling and marketing.

A recent ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) ruling provides a reminder of the strict advertising rules when it comes to health and nutrition claims made on behalf of such products.

The ASA investigated a complaint in relation to a leaflet received by the complainant on 20 July 2020, which included the following claims for a food supplement:

“guaranteed to relieve your pain”

“low back pain and sciatica […] it reduces your painful inflammation”

“no back pain”

“INCREASES flexibility of tendons and ligaments”

“RAPID RELIEF from inflamed joints”

“ALLEVIATES muscle tightness that limits movement”

“LESSENS cramps and even stops them”

“IMPROVES joint flexibility day after day”.

Food labelling claims

Food supplements are treated as food products, and must comply with all legislation applicable to food products. The Committee of Advertising Practice (“CAP”) Code has a rule against claims that state or imply that a food or drink could prevent, treat or cure human disease.

The ASA held that the statements above amounted to claims to prevent, treat or cure human disease, which meant that the ad breached the CAP Code.

The ad also made specific claims in relation to three of the ingredients:

“Desmosine – a virtually unknown amino acid that is responsible for helping with the elasticity of joint tissues.”, “IMPROVES joint flexibility day after day.”, "INCREASES flexibility of tendons and ligaments” and “Growth Factor B – helps with cell regeneration”

“[Boswellia] inhibits the formation of prostaglandins which cause inflammation”

“[White Willow] provides COX inhibition, which reduces pain and inflammation in your joints”

The ASA held that the first assertion amounts to a health claim. The CAP Code only permits marketing of health claims listed as authorised on the EU Register for nutrition and health claims (“the Register”). The CAP Code also requires that any such claims are supported by documentary evidence, to show that they meet the conditions of use associated with the claims on the Register.

On the basis that the ASA had not seen any evidence that the health claim made was authorised on the Register, or that the product met the conditions of use associated with an authorised claim, the ad was held to breach the CAP Code.

The ASA held that the claims in relation to Boswelia and White Willow were likely to be interpreted as reduction of disease risk claims. As the claims were not authorised on the Register, and there was no supporting evidence to explain the basis of the claims, the ASA held that the ad breached the CAP Code.

The ad was prohibited from appearing again in the form complained of.

As can be seen from the ruling, marketing these types of products is not clear cut and requires careful consideration of the wording used. If you would like some advice on this or any other food marketing/labelling issue, please contact the Regulatory team.

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