The National Nutritional Products Association's (NNFA) remarks come in response to an FDA request for comments on consumer perceptions of health claims in October 2005.
The following month David Seckman, CEO and executive director of the NNFA, gave a presentation in which he said that health claims have the potential to benefit both consumers and industry; for distributors of 'good for you' products they are an effective marketing tool, and for consumers seeking these foods they can be an important source of information.
But unfortunately the wording used to describe such claims means that marketers are disinclined to include it on packaging. Thus, the health claim information is not actually reaching consumers.
For example, the recently approved claim on tomatoes and prostate cancer reads: "Very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that eating one-half to one cup of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce a week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting the claim."
Although petitioner Heinz said that the message gives some validation to its research program, it said that it is not intending to put the wording on its product labels.
Where such wordy claims are used, it is easy to see how consumers may become confused.
Part of the problem, says the NNFA, is that the qualified health claim language "does not reflect the specific state of the science, but rather is standardized to fit a few defined scenarios based on the level of science submitted".
The NNFA complains that the FDA has not tested other language, which may be more meaningful to the consumer, relevant to the science or useable.
Moreover, the trade association believes that the long time the FDA takes to review such claims means that companies are put off submitting them in the first place.
"FDA must spend the resources necessary to timely review and allow health claims, or the entire process frustrates ingredients development and market entry decisions and thus is without value to those seeking to entertain their use," wrote Seckman and colleague David Taylor, NNFA president.
Last year NutraIngredients-USA.com asked Kathy Ellwood, director of nutrition programs and labeling at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, to explain why the FDA was taking so long to review health claims submissions. The lycopene/cancer decision was postponed on several occasions, as was a decision on Nutrition 21's chromium picolinate/insulin resistance petition.
She said: "We have very limited resources here. We do what we can with the resources we have."