article | 23 May 2023

Swedish Food Agency says ‘probiotics’ cannot be used as category name for food supplements

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In April 2023, the Swedish National Food Agency reviewed whether the word ‘probiotics’ may be used for food supplements containing a certain type of bacteria. The agency’s assessment is that the word may not be used if there is no approved health claim about probiotic microorganisms. This means the National Food Agency stands by its previous assessment.

Probiotics are defined by FAO/WHO as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. In the European Commission Guidance document on the implementation of the Claims Regulation, the term ‘probiotic’ is considered a health claim, because this term is deemed to include an implied health benefit. Therefore, the word ‘probiotics’ can only be used in combination with an approved authorised specific health claim, despite the fact that this term is broadly used all over the world.

Last year, the Swedish industry organisation Svensk Egenvård asked the Swedish National Food Agency to review its assessment of the use of the word ‘probiotics’ for food supplements.

The question from Svensk Egenvård was whether probiotics could constitute a ‘category name’, i.e. mandatory information in labelling that describes what characterises food supplements. ‘Lactic acid bacteria’ is the category name currently used for these products.

In its statement, the Swedish National Food Agency says it considers that even if ‘probiotics’ were to be used as a category name, it would still be a health claim. Therefore, the word cannot be used in either the labelling or the marketing of food supplements if there is no approved health claim about probiotic microorganisms.

The conclusion is that the Swedish National Food Agency stands by its previous assessment that ‘probiotics’ may not be used as a category name for food supplements.

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