Industry unveils code to rein in false food claims

A code of practice drawn up to monitor “functional food” claims made by companies is being unveiled tomorrow (Thursday).

The Joint Health Claims Initiative (JHCI) code has been drawn up by food trade bodies, watchdogs and enforcement agencies to stamp out misleading or unsubstantiated claims on labels. The Food Standards Agency is also backing the code.

Although the JHCI has no legal power and cannot rule on medicinal claims, it is hailing the code as a step towards self-regulation by food companies.

An expert panel has been set up to advise consumers and trading standards officers whether legal action should be taken over complaints. The JHCI can also inform the ASA and ITC about its ruling.

The JHCI will rule on “generic” and innovative claims. Generic claims relate to ingredients and these can be made by any company making a product which includes them. For example, food containing fruit or vegetables said to contain antioxidants, which are claimed to reduce the risk of cancer. Mars courted controversy after claiming on packets of M&M’s that its chocolate contains high amounts of polyphenols, which can cut heart disease (MW April 20).

Innovative claims are specific to products of individual companies.

JHCI chairman Roger Manley admits individual courts will have to decide how much weight the code carries.

Manley adds: “The code will help root out the cowboys. It’s about aiding consumer choice in an informed and reliable way.

“We’re working for both consumers and the industry. If we advise companies about claims they are going to make, they can avoid prosecution.”

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