New EC law threatens to ban food health claims

Health charities are set to lose the right to raise funds and public awareness through links with food manufacturers and retailers, under new EC regulations being debated by MEPs this month.

Article 11 of the proposed Nutrition and Health Claims regulation will outlaw any kind of alliance between a marketer of food and drink and a health organisation or doctor. The aim of the law is to stop food being sold on what the EC sees as spurious health grounds.

A spokeswoman for the EC's health and consumer protection unit said: "We know that there are many responsible charities. But there are also a lot of dodgy health organisations and food marketers that link with them."

An example of the kind of link-up that would be banned is a British Heart Foundation promotion currently running on Shredded Wheat cereal packets.

The back of each packet is devoted to educating consumers about reducing salt consumption, an issue that both the Government and the World Health Organisation are keen to promote. But under the new rules, this would not be permitted.

Betty McBride, director of marketing and communications at the British Heart Foundation, said such link-ups help to fund vital heart research, education and patient-care programmes and are not meant to imply endorsement of specific food products.

Cancer Research's sanction of Tesco's Five-a-Day labelling scheme for fruit and vegetables could also be outlawed, because it would contravene the regulation's detail on not allowing endorsement by doctors or health professionals of any food or drink.

The new regulation could be on member states' statute books by May. It is thought that Ireland is keen to get the law passed during its presidency of the EU in the first six months of 2004.

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