Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Warning: May Contain Guff

Warning: May Contain Guff, Conor Pope, Irish Times (Jul. 28, 2008)

There was a time when the only the makers of certain shampoos and moisturisers could get away making absolutely ridiculous claims about their products. In recent years, however, more and more manufacturers have climbed on board the crazy train and now if you take a walk through your local supermarket, you will quickly lose count of the number of foods that promise to keep you alive and gorgeous looking for longer.

There are sugary cereal bars which use extra nutrients and calcium to distract from their calorific content, vegetable spreads that promise to lower your cholesterol in a heart beat and yoghurt drinks with unpronounceable additives which, the ads say, will improve you digestion and immunity. And because these products are even better than real food — as the manufacturers will have you believe — they can justify charging a premium for them. It's a win win situation, for them at any rate.

Last year the increasingly outlandish claims being made on some food labels finally prompted the EU to take action, and legislation was introduced prohibiting manufacturers from making unverifiable health claims about their products. In the future, all nutritional or health claims will have to be backed by proper scientific evidence, although certain products are hanging in there after getting a two-year derogation so they can get their houses in order.

Functional foods, which claim to have beneficial nutrients added, are not entirely without merit, however. Earlier this month Enterprise Ireland announced €20 million in funding for the establishment of a National Functional Foods Research Centre. The new centre will bring together four of the biggest food groups in the country - Dairygold Food Ingredients, Glanbia Nutritionals, Carbery and Kerry Ingredients Ireland - to maximise the commercial value of milk.

The companies will work in conjunction with researchers from UCD, UCC, UL and Teagasc to enhance foods (including infant formula, dairy spreads, yogurts and cheese) with extra nutrients. Speaking at the launch, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan said the investment would "lead to the delivery of new high-value, innovative food products for the health conscious consumer".

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