This is to align with changes that happened at the CODEX level along the years, simplify the current framework and in turn, boost the market development of health food.
NutraIngredients-Asia learnt from industry expert, Dr Anadi Nitithamyong, VP for academic affairs of Food Science and Technology Association of Thailand (FoSTAT) that the new guidelines for nutrient function claims were finalised and were pending to be gazetted.
At present, there are 29 nutrients which could bear nutrient function claims. The new development will see the number of nutrient function claims expand to two to three times more.
“For example, in the past, you can only use one or two functional health claims related to calcium. Now, there is maybe three or four claims available for use,” Dr Nitithamyong, who is part of the drafting committee, said.
There is a significant number of functional foods in Thailand’s health food market, however, due to the current regulatory gap, many do not bear functional claims, Dr Nitithamyong pointed out.
With the new development, she believes that it would be a positive driver for the industry.
“If the claims are shown on the label, it means that it has already been approved by the authorities to be factual, and so consumers can be more confident that the product that they buy will really do what it says it will do.”
She added that the new framework could also deter products that bear untruthful claims from entering the market.
Only the first step
Expanding the list of nutrient function claims is only the first step for Thailand’s health foods industry.
Aligning itself with changes that happened at the CODEX level throughout the years, Thailand will also categorise nutrient function claims as a health claim from the present nutrition claims framework.
“Right now, Thailand only has the nutrition labelling regulations to govern nutrient function claims, because in the beginning, CODEX classified nutrient function claim as a nutrition claim and not a health claim.
“But they later revised the standards and they changed nutrient functional claim to be a health claim.
“Actually CODEX had already changed for many years, but right now, since we are drafting the new regulations (to expand the list of nutrient function claims), once this finishes, they will move nutrient function claims from nutrition labelling regulation to health claim regulation in line with CODEX,” Dr Nitithamyong said.
Moving forward, the Thai authorities also plan to establish two other components under the guidelines for use of heath claims.
This two other components are “other function claims” and “reduction of disease risk claims”, in addition to the “nutrient function claims”.
A key to the drafting of the above guidelines, would be to establish the kind of scientific evidence that manufacturers would need to submit.
“Most of the time, or rather all the time when you apply for a health claim, the authorities usually require human clinical trial results, and food manufacturers are not familiar with this kind of thing...They are not physicians or clinical nutritionists that will understand the type of studies required for claims submission.
“So we are trying to elaborate more on the type of scientific evidence that would be suitable, such as the kinds of study designs,” Dr Nitithamyong said.
Lack of experts
Besides revising the regulations, there is also the need to train for more experts to assess the validity of products that bear health claims.
Dr Nitithamyong said that a there has been a lack of qualified experts to assess the claims submitted by manufacturers.
As such, in the past two years, FoSTAT has been collaborating with the Thai FDA to provide training workshops.
“During the past two years is that we are collaborating with the TFDA to simplify the manual and also, provide training workshops for skilled researchers who have done some work on functional foods and have the potential to become expert assessors, so we invited experts from the EU to hold this workshop and we hope that some of the expert researchers have been trained with us will be included into the list of experts for the Thai FDA."