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Antioxidant claims: immune to the EFSA cull?

Antioxidant claims remain prevalent in the marketplace, with an array of benefits being quoted. Some of those benefits overlap with the claimed effects of other functional ingredients, making it potentially confusing for the consumer. The industry must ask itself, what with the ongoing economic downturn: will consumers seeking to boost their immunity purchase both prebiotics and antioxidants? And, perhaps more importantly, will they actually pay premium rates for any of the functional foods on offer?

When talking about antioxidants and the European Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, it is important to remember that any mention of ingredient functionality, including the use of the term, antioxidant, positions you in the health claims category--and all that that entails. If nutrient profiling precludes the use of health claims on your product, you may have the option of making a nutrition claim in the "contains X" category. If this is the case, you currently have a short window of time to firmly establish an association between your functional ingredients/brand proposition and the potential health benefits. If you can cement this within your customer base, they may--in future--react to a mere mention of that ingredient/brand ... but this will be a major challenge!

Let's assume that your product is within the nutrient profile and may bear health claims. What does the future hold for antioxidants? The claims regulation, as most readers will be aware, requires health claims to be assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), then adopted by the Commission. Future health claims will, in effect, be picked from the community list of permitted claims that will be in place by 31 January 2010 (that's the theory!) or applied for on the basis of new science. How are antioxidant claims positioned? Currently, as general nutrient function claims, which are filed under Article 13(a) of the Regulation. I am not aware--at the time of writing--of any claim application under Article 14, taking antioxidants into the realms of disease risk reduction. Whether EFSA will feel that any wordings used in the Article 13 applications actually have that connotation remains to be seen.

There are a host of foods/functional ingredients on the market that refer to an antioxidant effect and/or the presence of antioxidants. If you search the register of requested opinions on the EFSA website to see what they will be reviewing for a place on the claims register, there are more than 400 claims relating specifically to antioxidant functionality. Ingredients/foods with submitted applications for health claims approval claiming an antioxidant effect include the following:

* Vitamin A, C, E

* Beta-carotene

* Riboflavin

* Selenium

* Polyphenols: tannins, lignins and flavonoids

* Foods: ginseng, gingko, aloe vera, fenugreek, brassicas and various "super fruits"

* Drinks: coffee, cocoa, green tea

* A variety of exotic and unusual plants.

Claimed benefits to be derived from the consumption of these foodstuffs include immune boosts, antiageing effects, protection of cells against oxidative damage and fighting free radicals. And, although some of these could be viewed as being comparable, they represent unique applications. A certain number of the requested claims are more specific and refer to explicit links to digestive health, eye health, heart health and even cancer; it is possible that, for some of these, EFSA may view the wording as disease risk reduction.

When you search the EFSA register of requested opinions, you may find that, instead of focusing on a specific functional attribute for a particular ingredient/ food, a range of other benefits have also been applied for. Take Coenzyme Q10, for example; of the 10 claims applications for health benefits associated with its consumption, one of these relates to antioxidant activity, with the main focus of the others being on heart health and energy release. Of course, it is accepted that multiple benefits may be associated with food components; yet, if all of these applications pass the test, a range of claims will potentially be available for Coenzyme Q10, subject to the associated conditions for those claims.

EFSA scrutiny encompasses and assesses the validity of the supporting scientific evidence, whether the functional component is clearly characterized, the existence of a valid diet/health relationship and the specific importance of the food for the claimed effect. Claim wording must be clear and unambiguous; this, together with the consumer understanding test, begs the question of whether simple references to the presence of antioxidants that don't explain their beneficial effects are possible. In some cases, the applications refer to the strength/level of antioxidants, which presents a further challenge. Antioxidant capacity is often quoted in terms of an ORAC score, but there is no formal consensus on the measurement of antioxidant "activity." So, how can this be ranked?

The first batch of opinions on claims applications relating to antioxidants is due for publication on 31 July 2009, batch two is due on 30 November 2009 and the others are currently uncertain, as they are still in the process of being registered. Will it then simply be a case of creating a cocktail of functional ingredients with approved health claims and adding these to your formulations at the correct level? A simple "yes" would be a huge surprise and, indeed, this will not be the case. Food manufacturers must consider other factors, such as the bioavailability of the functional components in the particular food matrix of their product. Particularly in the case of antioxidants, the maintenance of a functionally effective active throughout the shelf-life of the product, interaction with other ingredients and the impact of processing will determine the validity of claims. And if that all makes you feel weary and old, you obviously need an antioxidant boost!

For more information Kath Veal Business Manager, Regulatory Services Leatherhead Food International
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Title Annotation:regulatory review; European Food Safety Authority
Author:Veal, Kath
Publication:Nutraceutical Business & Technology
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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