Estimated time - 5 min

Since the Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 on nutritional and health claims on foodstuffs, the European Commission has classified the terms probiotic and prebiotic as health claims. As a consequence, they require authorization to be used.

Therefore, no product clearly displaying the term “probiotics” or claiming to have specific health effects should be sold in the EU. According to the Commission, this term implies that a product provides a health benefit, which could mislead consumers, unless it can be scientifically proven.

The use of the term “probiotics” on food is therefore a subject which divides the member states of the European Union. Indeed, some of them allow it, others forbid it considering that it is an unauthorized health claim …

In France, the term “probiotics” is prohibited on foodstuffs, except yoghurts and fermented milks which benefit from an authorized claim thanks to live active yoghurt cultures.

However, for several years, countries such as the Czech Republic, Italy and Bulgaria have published national guidelines allowing the term “contains probiotics” to be used (under specific conditions). More recently, Spain and the Netherlands have also taken a stand about the use of this « probiotic » term :

Spain recognizes the right to use the term “probiotics”

In October 2020, AESAN declared itself in favor of the liberalization of the term “probiotic” to designate the living microorganisms added in certain preparations such as yogurts, infant milks or food supplements.

Because of the principle of mutual recognition, and in the absence of consensus at the European level, Spain therefore chooses to authorize the term “probiotic (s)” “on the label of food products, manufactured both nationally and from other countries of the European Union “, in compliance with applicable safety requirements.

The Netherlands defends use of term “probiotics”

Last March 2021, the Netherlands also joined the list of European countries to allow the use of this term. The Netherlands Food and Drug Administration has published guidelines for the use of “probiotics” on food products and food supplements.

A request has been filed through the European Commission for the use of the term as a generic descriptor.

The Netherlands takes as an example terms such as “cough candy” – confectionery containing plant extracts – or “tonic” which are authorized for foodstuffs, respectively confectionery and non-alcoholic drinks, unrelated to a authorized health claim.

To consult the guide, go HERE (in Dutch).


What’s next ? 

As more and more countries are choosing to go agasint EFSA opinion, allowing goods to be labelled with probiotics on their market, european legislation may be forced to change soon. Indeed, lack of harmonisation is causing issues for the european internal market.

Harmonisation in the UE would also prevent consumers confusion about probiotics definition. It would allow them to recognize better the prooducts and enligthen their buying decisions.


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