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Anatomy of a euromyth

A Daily Express headline claimed last week that “EU says water is not healthy” on the front page in letters 42 mm high. This is a perfect example of a euromyth. Perfect, because it is not true; perfect, because it damns the European Union; and perfect, because everything we need to know to debunk it is available on the public record.

The origin of the story is the rejection by the European Commission of a proposal that the register of approved disease risk claims for food and drink should include the claim that “Regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant decrease of performance.” At first sight, that decision is barmy and deserves the worst that headlines can throw at it. But a look at the facts reveals a rather different story.

The register of approved disease risk claims was created by a European regulation on nutrition and health claims made on foods (1924/2006), which requires prior approval before food and drink manufacturers can make such claims about their products. No longer will the claim that eating X is good for you be permitted on the say-so of scientists employed by the manufacturers of X. In future, all such claims have to be approved by an independent panel of scientists convened by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and then confirmed by the European Commission. This system is intended to protect consumers from false or misleading claims, and will also ensure a level playing field for companies in the X industry. It may be bureaucracy, but isn’t that what bureaucracy is for?

In the case of the dehydration claim, the proposal was rejected by the EFSA scientific panel not because dehydration cannot be prevented by drinking water but because it is not a disease risk claim. A disease risk claim “states, suggests or implies that the consumption of a food category, a food or one of its constituents significantly reduces a risk factor in the development of a human disease” (article 2(6)); the proposal sent to EFSA asserted not that dehydration was a risk factor but that it was the disease itself.

There is in fact a separate register of “Health claims describing or referring to the role of a nutrient or other substance in growth, development and the functions of the body” (article 13(1)), which is where a claim about water and dehydration belongs. The application to EFSA was rejected not because it was unfounded scientifically but because it was submitted under the wrong regulatory heading.

So, this Commission decision is not at all a “scarcely believable ruling”, not at all “new madness from Brussels”, not at all “at odds with both science and common sense”. It is following correctly the rules that have been laid down to prevent consumers from being misled. What if the Commission were to bend the rules, or not follow the correct procedures in the law? What would the newspapers say then?

But we can go further. This euromyth has not arisen from a misunderstanding. The facts, when inconvenient, are simply ignored.

And the fact is that the EFSA panel has approved other claims about the beneficial effects of drinking water. Two health claims regarding the “maintenance of normal physical and cognitive functions” and the “maintenance of normal thermoregulation” have been approved, with an EFSA scientific opinion reading:

“The Panel concludes that a cause and effect relationship has been established between the dietary intake of water and maintenance of normal physical and cognitive functions.”

and

“The Panel concludes that a cause and effect relationship has been established between the dietary intake of water and maintenance of normal thermoregulation.”

In each case, “The Panel considers that, in order to obtain the claimed effect, at least 2.0 L of water should be consumed per day.”

The support for these health claims by EFSA directly refutes the headline that “EU says water is not healthy”. The Daily Express knew about these other claims before going to print, but printed the inaccurate headline anyway. That is where euromyths come from.

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Comments

  1. This article is the biggest piece of obsfucation i have ever read. It is just as beclouding of the real issue as the so-called Independent scientists at the EU did. And the scientists are NOT independent. They are unelected unaccountable Pharma-for-hire scientists with a big hidden agenda. And is/was to take down the supplement industry in the EU so that the people would be unable to be in control of their own health.

    The Media and the British public have it right and the EU Brussels Panel is out to lunch on the issue. The Nutrition professors were testing the stupidity of the Brussels EU Bureaucrats and they hit a home run!

  2. The Daily Express has willfully propagated a false myth about the EU. The EU didn’t say that “Water is not healthy” rather the opposite that drinking water is essential to a healthy life. It is only in drinking too much water that there could be any adverse effect.

    I call upon the Daily Express will print a correction in letters 42 mm high

  3. @Linda, first let’s deconstruct your comment regarding “the so-called Independent … unelected unaccountable Pharma-for-hire scientists”:

    – do you have evidence that they are not independent? Please provide evidence – we are discussing a scientific topic here, after all.
    – do you think electing scientists would help improve their independence? How would this not lead to complete capture of the process by Pharma via campaign donations?

    As for “The Nutrition professors were testing the stupidity of the Brussels EU Bureaucrats and they hit a home run!”, how do you reconcile this with the quoted EFSA statements which directly refute the headline?

    Finally, given that the relevant EFSA statements were not included in the newspaper article, how can you say the “the Media … have it right” when the journalist couldn’t be bothered doing proper – and easy – journalistic research?

  4. Dear friends,
    Even in this matter we can see that the opinion and importance of the water depends on the culture and education of people. If we live in the desert, or if we live near mountains where there are a lot of water the usage of water and our idea about water we change of course
    I am interested to read the publications about this matter SANCO Europe
    I saw the publications of EFSA also
    You can read here
    ” In its scientific opinion on Dietary Reference Values for Water dated March 2010, EFSA stated that “Water is essential for practically all functions of the body…” and that “A water intake which balances losses and thereby assures adequate hydration of body tissues is essential for health and life”. EFSA recommends a total water intake of 2.0 litres a day for adult women and 2.5 litres a day for adult men, under moderate conditions of activity and temperature.
    In April 2011, EFSA also acknowledged the role of water ‘in the maintenance of normal physical and cognitive functions’ and in ‘the maintenance of normal thermoregulation’ and delivered a favourable opinion for the use of those two claims”
    Kind regarda
    Anna

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