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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

A new health & safety scheme for nutritional vigilance

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News of 09/12/2010

9 December 2010

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) today launched a nutritional vigilance scheme for novel foods, fortified foods, food supplements and foodstuffs intended for specific diets. The scheme will enable authorities to identify possible adverse effects related to their consumption and to undertake targeted expert appraisals. The review of the pilot phase launched in 2009 on food supplements confirmed that the vigilance scheme did indeed improve consumer protection.

Over the last few decades, significant progress has been made in food health and safety, particularly in the field of microbiology, through the introduction of widespread hygiene measures and the efforts of all those involved in the food production and distribution chain.

However, the foods available to consumers are evolving rapidly with products which are referred to as "novel" due to the technology used to make them or to their ingredients, i.e. fortified foods and beverages, imported products or those purchased via the Internet. These new products might expose consumers to new hazards which authorities must be able to identify promptly.

This is the purpose of the French nutritional vigilance scheme, the only one of its kind in Europe, whose implementation has been entrusted to ANSES by the French Act on Regional Health Governance (Loi Hôpital, Patients, Santé et Territoires - 2009), as part of the Agency's overall health and safety mission.

The new scheme covers food supplements, beverages and foods to which substances have been added for nutritional or physiological purposes, also known as fortified foods, as well as products intended for particular diets and novel foods.
The scheme will be coordinated by health professionals since they will be examining their patients and then declaring any possible adverse effects related to consumption of these new types of foods and beverages.

The declarations will be analysed by a technical committee and discussed with the manufacturers concerned as well as the supervising ministries in order to identify risk situations which may then be subjected to collective expert assessment and lead to the publication of formal opinions.
This innovative system will involve many stakeholders.
Networking will be used to exchange knowledge with Canada and the United States which have fairly similar systems.

A pilot phase, limited to food supplements, was undertaken in 2009 and a recent review confirmed the effectiveness of the system.
Following 10 declarations of adverse effects, some of which were quite severe, involving a range of products containing alcoholic extracts of yams, ANSES recommended that the extracts' chemical make-up, composition and toxicity be examined as quickly as possible by the manufacturers who market them.
Eight cases of confusion between a drug named previscan®, and a food supplement called preservision® have led to recommendations being published on the Agency's site, while 10 other declarations have also led to the issuing of Opinions.

This first pilot phase demonstrated the usefulness of such a scheme in making public authorities, manufacturers and consumers aware of adverse effects, some serious as well as unforeseen, although the number of cases was proportionately low in comparison to the overall consumption of food supplements in France. Extension of the scheme will make it possible to reinforce consumer protection.

Find out more

>Press kit on the launch of the French nutritional vigilance scheme
>Review of the pilot phase (in French)
>Opinion of 22 November 2010 regarding the safety of yam (Dioscorea) alcohol extracts in food supplements

>Close-up on the nutritional vigilance scheme
>Declaration website (in French)