In France, the term ‘probiotic’ may be used on the label of food supplements that meet certain conditions. A choice that takes the country away from the particularly restrictive interpretation provided by the European Commission.
The announcement came from the Directorate General for Competition Policy, Consumers and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) and will allow France to come into line with other countries, such as Italy. The European Commission allows the term probiotic to be used exclusively as a ‘health claim‘, to be used only if linked to a verified and specific health effect.
The French Turning Point
The French decision came in the face of a lack of a clear regulatory framework for probiotic foods. In 2005, Italy decided to regulate the use of this term through precise National Guidelines that have been updated over the years. A choice also made by the Czech Republic and, later, by Spain and Denmark. Finally, the Netherlands, Malta, Poland and Bulgaria have joined the list of countries that have authorised the use of the term.
What will happen in France? The term ‘probiotic’, as in Italy, will be allowed to be used under certain very precise conditions in order to guarantee the safety, efficacy and quality of food supplements. A reference to the effect of probiotics on intestinal flora may be included on the label, using the formula: ‘contribue/participation/maintien à l’équilibre de la flore intestinal‘.
Food claims in Europe
In Europe, food claims follow Regulation (EC) 1924/2006. In the EU, there is currently only one authorised claim for probiotic microorganisms, namely: ‘live lactic acid bacteria in yoghurt improve lactose digestion’. The specific strains have not yet received a positive opinion from EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) regarding characteristic benefits. In spite of this, numerous studies and scientific evidence have demonstrated the positive effects of probiotics, prompting authorities in various countries to consider them a special category of ingredients, thus – in effect – communicating their specificity to consumers.
What are probiotics
To understand the French breakthrough, it is essential to emphasise what probiotics are. This term refers to microorganisms found in the intestinal tract, e.g. bacteria or yeasts, such as Bifidobacteria and Saccharomyces boulardii. These microorganisms are naturally present in the human intestine and can resist the action of intestinal enzymes, bile salts and gastric juices.
Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated the beneficial effect of probiotics on human health. They are useful for protecting the digestive system during pharmacological treatments, strengthening the intestinal flora and counteracting flatulence and bloating. They can usually be taken by consuming fibre-rich or fermented foods, but more often they can be included in the diet thanks to food supplements.
Among the microorganisms with probiotic action, milk enzymes play a key role. They contribute to the enzymatic fermentation of sugars and are activated in the presence of imbalances in the digestive system. Useful for keeping blood cholesterol levels under control and controlling allergy symptoms, they are found in cream cheeses, yoghurt and fermented milk, helping metabolise lactose. They are also present in miso, sauerkraut and tempeh. However, they are usually taken in the form of food supplements, alongside a diet that promotes their absorption.