Probiotic health claims unsupported: EU

An EU agency has dismissed general health claims of probiotic drinks and yogurts, saying the claims were not backed by science.

An EU agency has dismissed general health claims of probiotic drinks and yogurts, saying they were not backed by science.

The agency considered 523 health claims related to 200 foods and food components such as vitamins and minerals, fibre, fats, carbohydrates, "probiotic" bacteria and botanical substances.

The study rejected two-thirds of the claims, or about 350. Of that number, nearly half were dismissed for lacking information about the substance on which the claim was based, including probiotic bacteria and botanical substances.

The EU review, which next moves to claims made by particular brands, could be important for France's Groupe Danone, producer of probiotic yogurt brands Activia and Actimel in the U.S. and similar brands in Canada.

Last month, Dannon Co., the U.S. branch of the company, agreed to pay $35 million US to settle a lawsuit that alleged it overstated the yogurt's health benefits. Dannon claimed its yogurt could strengthen the body's defences and regulate digestion because of the bacteria in the product.

In Canada, some health claims are allowed on food labels, but they don't include probiotics.

On its Canadian website, Danone hints at the health benefits of probiotic cultures that it adds to its Activia brand.

"The probiotic culture in Activia is unique to Danone: it consists of the BL Regularis strain (Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010), a friendly bacteria that remains active in the digestive system," the website says. "Each serving contains over a billion of these live BL Regularis bacteria, which makes Activia so exceptional."

As for DanActive, Danone says 37 scientific studies have proven that a bacterial culture in the product is effective in strengthening the body's defences.

The EU agency said it did find sufficient scientific evidence to support claims related to vitamins and minerals, dietary fibres or fatty acids for maintenance of cholesterol levels. The agency also agreed that sugar-free chewing gum was good for maintenance of dental health.

Albert Flynn, who chairs the agency panel that considered the claims, said the first stage was to look at general health claims for the products.

It will next look at more specific claims from individual manufacturers.

"There were many claims on the market and consumers needed to be reassured that these claims were accurate and were backed by science," Albert Flynn, chairman of the agency’s expert panel, told the Telegraph newspaper.

"If the claims are backed by science, it may be permitted, but if they are not, they may be prohibited."