Intended for healthcare professionals


Trading regulations and health foods

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 26 November 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2408
  1. M E J Lean, professor of human nutrition
  1. 1Faculty of Medicine, University of Glasgow, Division of Developmental Medicine, Glasgow G31 2ER
  1. lean{at}

    New legislation requires evidence for marketed health foods

    The European Union promotes a free market economy in Europe; however, the pursuit of profit sometimes has to be curtailed if consumers are injured or deceived. For example, the unregulated marketing of certain foods may include claims about effects on health that deceive patients. The EU Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices, enforced in the United Kingdom in May 2008,1 was designed “to plug gaps in existing consumer protection legislation” and “to protect vulnerable consumers who are often the target of unscrupulous traders.” It obliges businesses not to mislead consumers,2 and this includes health claims for services or products.

    The distinction between medicines and foods is sometimes unclear when they are marketed for health reasons, and consumers can be misled. Medicines are licensed in Europe only after stringent experimental research to establish safety and efficacy. In the UK, this process is regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare …

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