Label Claims Must Evolve as New Food Benefits Are Confirmed


DATE: Thursday, March 24, 2005

Label Claims Must Evolve as New Food Benefits are Confirmed

WASHINGTON D.C.—Recognizing an unprecedented opportunity to improve public health through diet and lifestyle, a new scientific report urges the government to expand its food labeling regulations to accurately reflect food's effect on the body. The report, Functional Foods: Opportunities and Challenges, was released today by the not-for-profit scientific society Institute of Food Technologists.

"Claims that accurately reflect physiological changes to the body caused by food need to be allowed," said Fergus Clydesdale, Ph.D., chair of the IFT Expert Panel and co-author of the report, and department head of food science at University of Massachusetts. "As long as the claims are scientifically valid, enormous public health benefits will result from having consumers understand and act on the benefit."

The IFT report defines functional foods as foods and food components that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. This includes conventional foods, fortified, enriched or enhanced foods, and dietary supplements.

Functional foods can enhance performance and deliver benefits for conditions such as coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and neural tube defects. The report notes that researchers have identified food components that may improve memory, reduce arthritis, and provide other benefits heretofore limited to drugs. It states that future benefits might include foods for increased energy, mental alertness, and better sleep.

The report reveals that foods already on the market represent only a small fraction of the potential of functional foods.

Where existing terminology and regulatory frameworks are inadequate to address the full scope of benefits and opportunities for functional foods, the terminology and the frameworks must be modified, according to the report. Arbitrary distinctions between food and medicine should not prevent consumer access to knowledge about the benefits of incorporating functional foods into their diets.

The IFT experts stress that regulatory oversight will be more consistent and more appropriate if the FDA expands its "nutritive value" definition: "[B]enefits for functional foods should be based on nutritive value or. . .a physical or physiological effect that has been scientifically documented or for which a substantial body of evidence exists. . ."

To promote consumer understanding, the wording of qualified health claims should indicate the degree of scientific certainty associated with a healthful modification of disease risk, according to the report. Enormous public health benefits would result from having consumers clearly understand and act on the accurately claimed health benefit, it concludes.

"Consumers, manufacturers, and regulators want the same thing-credibility in the claims on food products," said Clydesdale.

This is the third Expert Report commissioned by IFT, following the release of Biotechnology and Foods (2000) and Emerging Microbiological Food Safety Issues (2002). This new report is available online at

Founded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, USA, the Institute of Food Technologists is a not-for-profit international scientific society with members working in food science, technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues.