Definition, regulatory framework and ANSES's role

Claims are everywhere: "Rich in calcium and iron", "Helps strengthen the body's natural defences", "Reduced sugar", "Low-salt", etc.

How are claims regulated and what role does ANSES play?

What are claims?

A claim is a message found on certain food packages or in connection with a product (advertisement, web site), stating the health and/or nutritional benefits of a food or its ingredients.

From a regulatory point of view, a claim is considered to be:

  • a nutritional claim if it refers to the amount of a nutrient contained in the food. It indicates, for example "rich in calcium" or "provides 30% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C";
  • a health claim if it makes a connection between a nutrient or a food and health. It may claim that the product reduces a risk factor (ex: "Omega 3s reduce risks of cardiovascular disease") or the risk of a disease, but it may not include therapeutic information indicating that a nutrient can prevent or cure a disease (ex: "calcium prevents osteoporosis").

How are claims regulated?

Claims are covered by a harmonised framework at European level (Regulation 1924/2006). Authorised nutritional claims are listed in an annex to the regulation. Since 2007, when this provision came into force,EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) has been in charge of assessing claims before they are marketed and the European Commission is responsible for establishing the register of authorised claims.

In order to compile this register, the European Commission has centralised all applications concerning generic claims (those linking a nutrient to a bodily function) sent to them by Member States (more than 44,000) and made a selection (by deleting repetitions, etc.) in order to establish a single list containing just over 4,600 claims. EFSA has completed the assessment of these claims, except those concerning botanical substances (1500 claims) for which assessment methods need to be defined by the Commission. A register presenting the list of currently authorised claims has been published and is available on the European Commission's website.

What role does ANSES play?

Before 2007

AFSSA (which became ANSES as of 1 July 2010) was in charge of claim assessment for products already on the market. To use and market their products, manufacturers did not first have to supply scientific proof to support the claims they made. However, they had to be able to provide authorities with a file enabling them to justify the validity of the claim used. If the validity of a claim was called into question, the Directorate General for Fair Trading, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) would ask AFSSA to evaluate the claim on a scientific level. Since its creation, the Agency has assessed 590 cases of this type. Only 20% of the claims submitted were found to be scientifically sound.

Since 2007

Since the entry into force of regulation 1924/2006, the Agency is no longer systematically involved in the assessment of claims, but it participates in the evolution of regulations on the subject by providing scientific and technical support to the French government. Within the context of the drafting of the EU register of authorised claims, AFSSA has assessed a certain number of claims submitted by French manufacturers. The DGCCRF therefore was able to submit a consolidated French list to the European Commission.

In early 2007, AFSSA published guidelines specifying criteria considered relevant by the Agency for the scientific assessment of claims. This work was submitted to EFSA and was used as the basis for its own claims assessment guidelines which are consistent with those created by AFSSA.

The DGCCRF also occasionally asks ANSES to assess claims currently in use in France and for which EFSA has not yet completed their assessment.