However, in countries like India, you can claim pretty much anything from a orange powder mix curing arthritis to a soda beverage increasing your sexual performance. Its a free-for-all, as was highlighted when the food watchdog there finally took brands like Complan, Boost and Horlicks to task. And those at the receiving end include consumers and companies that have genuinely invested into innovating new products.
Reporting on Australasia for the last few years, I have noticed that no food forum or conference passed without mentioning of the claims issue. As I had reported in December last year, the administrations in the two countries had finally agreed on a common, accepted standard. Last week, this standard was signed into law.
Under the new standard, general level health claims, such as “calcium is good for strong bones”, are allowed to be supported by either pre-approved or industry self-substantiated food health relationships.
However, high-level health claims along the lines of “calcium reduces the risk of osteoporosis” would require preapproval by Food Standards Australia New Zealand without exception. On the whole, all health claims must now be supported by scientific evidence and will only be permitted on foods that meet specific eligibility criteria, including nutrition criteria.
On any level on interpretation, this is perhaps the most balanced approach to health claims seen in the eastern hemisphere. Health groups can now rest easy—the law pretty much makes it impossible to make an unsubstantiated claim. You can only really make a claim about something already well established by science—although in Asia this becomes a question of your science or my science.
The new standard also gives just enough for those small and medium businesses that had products on the market with general health claims—the fear was that if the entire sector was to go through a heavy pre-approval process, the smaller players would not be able to keep up. This is particularly a concern in India and China, whose economies run on the engine of small and medium businesses.
The FSANZ standard is thus a template for India and China to begin from, and perhaps even adopt fully. Struggling with their own claims processes for the last few years, both countries need to adopt a standard quickly and smoothly before the space grows too big.
Have your say: Do you agree with Ankush? Let us know in the comments below.