The Israeli Health Ministry's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is drawing up amendments which would allow manufacturers of certain food and supplement products to make claims about the health benefits of their products. Although this is currently illegal in Israel, the practice is in fact widespread, and the Ministry is now keen to ensure tighter regulation.
The new rules are expected to come into force within a couple of months.
FNS director Dr Dorit Nitzan-Kalusky said that the current Consumer Protection Law obliged product advertising or labelling be correct, able to be proven and not misleading. "Despite this, the market is flooded with messages, some of which are based on fact, some a matter of tradition and others not scientifically based."
However, many food and supplement products can be shown to have genuine health effects, and the FNS wanted to ensure that products which could prove such effects were able to use this in their advertising and labelling.
The amendment will follow the rules of the US Food and Drug Administration, which allows 12 food claims, including the connection between low fat and a lower risk of heart disease, fibre and a lower risk for colon cancer, low- or no-sugar and dental health, folic acid and a lower risk of neural tube disorders in babies and calcium to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Nitzan-Kalusky said that although some clinical studies had shown that cranberry juice can prevent or treat urinary infections by preventing bacteria from "sticking" to urinary tract tissues, or that prebiotic yoghurt can balance the type of harmful bacteria that cause diarrhoea, "these have not been proven to be effective in every case, so they will at present not be allowed".
Nitzan-Kalusky explained that "low fat" and other nutritional content information are not health messages, which show the connection between a nutrient and the prevention of disease or promotion of health. If a food product is claimed to have a functional influence on reducing the risk of a certain disease, it must meet the criteria for a health message, which must make it clear that the "therapeutic" food does not come instead of medical consultation and treatment.
She added that the ministry has decided not to bar functional food health messages that claim they promote "proper functioning" of the body, even though these have not yet been proven scientifically. This is because the public is interested in hearing about such products and many choose to eat them, she added. But the ministry has decided to require these products to be labelled with the message: "The Health Ministry has not approved the claims of this product."
In addition, food labels stating "with Health Ministry authorisation" or "with Health Ministry licence" will be barred, as they have long been misinterpreted as backing up manufacturers' therapeutic claims, when the statement in fact means only that the ingredients are fit for human consumption.