ECJ Rules Against Pro-Sugar Health Claims

Yesterday (on 13 June 2017), the Court of Justice of the European Union dismissed Dextro Energy’s appeal against the General Court's decision upholding the European Commission's refusal to authorise glucose-related health claims  on the ground that such claims encourage the consumption of sugar and are incompatible with generally accepted principle of nutrition and health.

The German company Dextro Energy ("Dextro") manufactures energy products consisting almost entirely of glucose. Its products are sold in Germany and other European countries. Dextro applied for authorizations for five health claims related to glucose and contribution to energy-yielding metabolism.

Despite the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s  positive opinion that a cause-and-effect relationship had been established between the consumption of glucose and normal energy-yielding metabolism, the Commission refused to authorize the claims.

The Commission's reasoning can be summarized as follows.  Health claims must be based on generally accepted scientific evidence. While the Commission generally takes into account EFSA's opinion, in some cases a scientific risk assessment alone does not  provide all relevant information on which a decision should be based and therefore other legitimate factors should also be taken into account, including the fact that health claims may not be inconsistent with generally accepted nutrition and health principles.

In the Commission's opinion, Dextro's claims convey a conflicting and confusing message to consumers, as they encourage sugar consumption which authorities believe should in fact be reduced based on generally accepted scientific evidence.

Consequently, the Commission ruled that the claims do not comply with Article 3.2(a) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006, which provides that health claims should not be ambiguous or misleading.

In addition, the Commission found that even if the health claims were authorised under specific conditions for use and/or accompanied by additional statements or warnings, this would not be sufficient to alleviate the confusion caused to consumers and, consequently, the claims should not be authorised.

The General Court sided with the Commission and ruled that while the task of EFSA is to verify whether health claims are based on scientific evidence (and whether their wording meets certain criteria), the Commission must take account of applicable EU legislation as well as other legitimate and relevant factors, including generally accepted principles of nutrition and health and the fact that consumers are advised to reduce their sugar consumption.

The Court of Justice agreed with the General Court that while scientific evidence is the main factor to be taken into account when analysing health claims, the fact remains that such claims should not be incompatible with generally accepted principles of nutrition and health or encourage or justify the excessive consumption of a particular foodstuff or discredit healthy eating practices.