Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Functional foods: health boon or quackery?

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 24 July 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:205

Rapid Response:

Code of practice for use of health claims on food

It was with interest that I read the above mentioned editorial in the
BMJ on 24 July 1999. Whilst agreeing with many of the points raised in
respect of public health implications, the article rather skates over the
complexities of the regulatory issues. There is no agreed definition of
"functional foods", the only common factor being the making of health

It is well recognised that diet has a significant impact on health,
particularly the two biggest killers in the UK with:

·130,000 deaths from cancer per year , 30%- 40% of which are estimated as
being preventable through dietary means; and

·152,000 deaths from coronary heart disease and 276,000 deaths from
cardio- vascular disease per year , 30% of which are estimated as being
preventable through dietary means.

This is why consumers need to understand and trust the health
messages on food.

In the absence of adequate regulation in the area of health claims
and a reticence by the European Commission to take firm action in this
area, the Joint Health Claims Initiative has been established. It is a
unique collaboration between the food industry, trading standards officers
and consumer groups which is establishing an innovative approach to self-
regulation. The Code of Practice for the use of health claims on food
which has been developed outlines the general principles to which those
making health claims should adhere and details the type of scientific
evidence required to substantiate a claim. Within the constraints of a
voluntary system, it has also tried to make the Code as binding as
possible, making it clear that complying with the Code should assist
companies to establish a defence of all due diligence if challenged when
making a health claim under the Food Safety Act 1990 and other applicable

This approach is, as yet, untested but I am optimistic that once the
code is launched in the new year, it will be effective. I am encouraged
in this view because the wide range of representatives who developed the
Code achieved a high level of agreement. Also, there are many common
elements in this Code, and those agreed in other Member States and other
countries which demonstrates a real need and arrival at a solution which
has significant consensus.

Until it has been tried and tested, it is somewhat premature, and
unhelpful, to speculate that it will "bear limited fruit".

Yours faithfully

Roger Manley OBE
Chair, Joint Health Claims Initiative

1 Our Healthier Nation, 1998.

2 World Cancer Research Fund, 1997. Food Nutrition and the Prevention of
Cancer: a global perspective.

3 British Heart Foundation, 1997. Coronary Heart Disease Statistics.

Competing interests: No competing interests

26 August 1999
Roger Manley