Who or what is the Joint Health Claims Initiative, and what are they saying about health claim in advertising?
Who: The Joint HealtB>Who: The Joint Health Claims Initiative
When: December 2000
The Code of Practice on Health Claims on Foods ("Code") was published by the Joint Health Claims Initiative ("JHCI"). The JCHI was set up in 1997 as a venture between consumer organisations, enforcement authorities and industry bodies. The idea was to dispel uncertainties surrounding health claims in relation to foods. "Medicinal" claims that a food is capable of preventing, treating or curing a human disease, regardless of their truth or falsity, are prohibited by the Food Labelling Regulations 1996. "Health claims" on the other hand may fall outside the "medicinal" definition, but still cause controversy.
The Code is designed to cover health claims made in labelling, advertising and promotion of all foods and head off further controls in this grey area. It is not law, but it has the backing of the Food and Drink Federation and the British Retail Consortium. Insofar as it demonstrates trade practice, moreover, it may well end up being part of the case for or against a food advertiser in court.
A Code Administration Body has been formed to administer the Code and it will be possible for manufacturers to obtain pre-market approval for any innovative claims contemplated. It should be noted, however, that in cases where doubts arise as to whether the claim is medicinal, the matter will be referred to the lion’s mouth in the guise of the Medicines Control Agency and LACOTS, the national body representing local authority trading standards officers. A database of approved innovative and generic health claims will also be maintained and an "Expert Committee" appointed to provide opinions to those seeking them, including manufacturers and other enforcement bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority.
Particularly useful parts of the Code deal with additional information which it is advisable, though not necessarily legally required, to include on pack. There is also helpful information on how to go about substantiating claims and an informative annex focusing on "Borderline" health/medicinal claims.
Why this matters:
With increased recognition of the role of diet in maintaining good health and the growth in the market for so-called functional foods, the need to prevent false, exaggerated, misleading and prohibited health claims has become a priority issue. This Code has been a long time coming, but is none the less a timely source of guidance and information in this contentious area.