A recent ruling of the European Court of Justice (Judgment in Case C-544/10 Deutsches Weintor eG v Land Rheinland-Pfalz) examined issues surrounding what constituted a health claim for a product under Health & Nutrition Claims Regulation 1924/2006 (NHCR). The case concerned specifically the use of the term ‘easily digestible’ in relation to wine. It was found that a description, indicating reduced acidity levels, constituted a health claim which is prohibited in relation to alcoholic beverages.
The ECJ looked at the definition of health claim within the NHCR
"health claim" means any claim that states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between a food category, a food or one of its constituents and health”
It was stated that the NHCR’s definition of what constitutes a health claim provides no information as to whether that relationship must be direct or indirect, or as to its intensity or duration. In those circumstances, the term 'relationship' must be understood in a broad sense.
Therefore, the concept of a 'health claim' must cover not only a relationship implying an improvement in health as a result of the consumption of a food, but also any relationship which implies the absence or reduction of effects that are adverse or harmful to health and which would otherwise accompany or follow such consumption, and, therefore, the mere preservation of a good state of health despite that potentially harmful consumption.
EU law prohibits all ‘health claims’ in the labelling and advertising of beverages containing more than 1.2% by volume of alcohol. The EU legislature has sought to protect the health of consumers, whose consumption habits may be directly influenced by such claims.
The Court noted in particular that all claims in relation to alcoholic beverages must be entirely unambiguous. Although the claim in the current instance was factually correct; the wine was less acidic and therefore more easily digestible than other wines, it highlighted only that one aspect. However, regardless of a sound digestion, the dangers inherent in the consumption of alcoholic beverages were not in any way removed, or even limited. By highlighting one aspect alone a claim could encourage increased consumption by consumers. This was why there was a total prohibition of the use of such positive health claims in the labelling and advertising of alcoholic beverages to protect consumers’ health.
A useful case that illustrates the ECJ taking a broad interpretation of what constitutes a health claim and an extremely restrictive view on any positive claims that can be affixed to alcoholic beverages.