Food supplement claims criticised
Thursday 22nd August 2013, 12:10AM BST.
Consumers are wasting money on food supplements that do not live up to the “exaggerated, misleading and sometimes unauthorised” health claims made by some manufacturers, according to watchdog Which?.
The consumer group found that most companies have removed health claims for supplements that have failed to gain EU approval, but said a small number are still using “ambiguous” packaging to promote their products.
Which? said three products – Bioglan Probiotic capsules, Bimuno Prebiotic powder and Seven Seas Cardiomax – made unproven health claims on their packaging and websites such as “helps maintain digestive balance” and “for a healthy heart”.
It also found six other food supplement products that it said could confuse consumers with their “exaggerated and ambiguous” claims – Boots Digestion Support Plus, Bioglan Glucosamine Plus Chondroitin and MSM, Seven Seas Jointcare Active, Boots Joint Health Glucosamine Sulphate & Chrondroitin, Vitabiotics Jointace Original and Optima ActivJuice for Joints.
Which? said all the products “took advantage” of ingredients such as vitamin C and calcium, which have proven health benefits, to imply all the ingredients were of benefit.
Which? said: “Confused consumers are likely to think the benefits of these products come from the main ingredients, as heavily advertised on the packaging, which could lead to people wasting money.
“For example, glucosamine supplements can cost up to £1 per day whilst a multi-vitamin could cost you as little as 3p per day. Both could contain vitamin C which has proven health benefits as opposed to glucosamine that has none.”
It has been illegal to include health claims on packaging that have not been approved by the EU since December 2012, with an exception for certain probiotic strains and glucosamine which must be removed by January next year.
The UK supplement industry was valued at £385 million last year, yet of more than 44,000 health claims for food and food supplements that have been submitted to the EU over the past five years, only 248 have so far been authorised, Which? said.
A survey by Which? found a third of consumers (33%) take food supplements regularly.
Some of the most popular supplements included glucosamine and chondroitin, which are often found in products claiming to support joints, as well as prebiotics and probiotics, which have been advertised as supporting healthy digestion and the immune system.
All health claims for these supplements have been formally rejected by the EU.
Bioglan told Which? it had changed its packaging to comply with the EU’s decision and new packaging without claims was now filtering through into retailers, while Seven Seas said it was in the process of redesigning CardioMax packaging and would review the healthy heart statement.
Optima ActivJuice and Seven Seas JointCare Active said their claims referred only to the specific ingredients that they were authorised for, and Bimuno said it believed its claims were substantiated and “will resubmit them to the EU’s European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)”.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “It’s worrying that some manufacturers aren’t playing fair on the packaging of food supplements, making claims which could leave shoppers out of pocket.
“Which? campaigned for health claims on these products to be backed up by scientific evidence, so it’s disappointing that manufacturers are still using clever language to imply unproven benefits.
“Consumers deserve accurate information to base their spending decisions on, particularly in the current economic climate. We would like to see all ambiguous and exaggerated claims completely removed from all food supplement packaging, so consumers can feel confident they are getting a fair deal.”
The Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) rejected the Which? findings,
HFMA executive director Graham Keens said: “Consumers in the UK should be advised that this new report regarding health claims on food supplements is inaccurate as it infers that manufacturers are misleading their customers, which is simply not true. Just because a certain ingredient does not have an EFSA-approved claim, does not mean that it doesn’t have a beneficial effect.
“The report ignores the significant efforts by UK manufacturers’ to comply with the regulation as well as still provide factual information about what their products do and how they work.
“The ‘huge quantity of claims that have been rejected’ is largely a result of EFSA applying an inappropriate pharmaceutical-style assessment to generic health maintenance claims on food ingredients, an approach usually used for assessing illness-related claims on drugs which are obviously completely different. Consequently, the list of unauthorised claims ignores the genuine value and evidence behind these products.”
- Which? surveyed 2,100 UK adults aged 18 and over online.