Consumers bamboozled by probiotics


Marketing spin versus real science creates consumer confusion

CHOICE says inadequate food labelling standards and pseudo-scientific names are allowing some manufacturers of probiotic yoghurts and drinks to mislead people about the products’ health benefits.

Nestlé’s Ski Activ Digestion yoghurt contains an ingredient called Bifidus ProDigestis and Danone Activia yoghurt contains Bifidus ActiRegularis complex. The evidence behind these trademarked creations is not transparent or freely available.*

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission took legal action against Dannon (Danone in Australia) and Nestlé over misleading claims made about their probiotic products. Dannon agreed to a US$21 million dollar settlement and softened its claims about Dan Active and Activia.

“It’s easy to make an ingredient sound healthy by renaming it but probiotic manufacturers should also be providing strong and easily accessible evidence to back up their claims,” says CHOICE spokesperson, Ingrid Just.

As part of its campaign for truth and accuracy in food labelling, CHOICE wants food health claims to be subjected to pre-market assessment by regulators, to ensure the products deliver what they promise.

In Australia, probiotic foods are regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). FSANZ does not require probiotic health claims to be proven before sale, nor do they require that manufacturers disclose on the label the number or strain of bacteria a product contains.

“For example, while the label on the popular Yakult drink identifies the bacteria strain, there is no information about the number of bacteria. How do people know just by looking at the product label if it is likely to have any effect?” says Ms Just.

The health benefits of a probiotic are strain-specific, so products with labels that identify the strain and the number of bacteria helps people judge if a particular probiotic suits their health needs.

“Probiotics is big business and with an increasing number of these products on the market, people will be more informed with better labelling that is based on robust science, not marketing spin,” says Ms Just.

*Nestlé’s Ski Activ Digestion probiotic yoghurt:
• Claims on label: ‘scientifically proven bacteria to top up your good bacteria’ plus use of the term ‘Bifidus ProDigetis’.
• Issue: The bacteria strain is not identified on the label or consumer website. Bifidus ProDigestis is a trademarked name created by Nestle.

Danone Activia probiotic yoghurt:
• Claims on label: ‘17 published scientific studies’ plus use of the term ‘Bifidus ActiRegularis’.
• Issue: The Activia website only offers summaries of 13 scientific studies; 4 of which are animal or in vitro studies. Bifidus ActiRegularis is a trademarked name created by Danone.

To read more on the CHOICE report into probiotics go to www.choice.com.au/probiotics.

Media contact:
• Ingrid Just Spokesperson, CHOICE 0430 172 669

 

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