Quality and safety of botanical food products and their labelling
Plants or botanicals are commonly used in both foods and medicines because they contain many different biologically active substances with very different physiological activities. However, the borderline between these uses is often unclear and depends on several factors, including the content of botanicals and their constituents (and their physiological/pharmacological effects), the labelling of a finished product (i.e. the use of health or medicinal claims) and the territory in which a product is being sold. In the European Union, legislation covering the food use of botanicals is not yet harmonised and there are significant differences between countries although, in general, the quality, safety and labelling of those products should comply with all provisions of food law.
The health promoting and therapeutic properties of botanicals have compliance their use for decades. The use of plant ingredients in food products is well established, for example as vegetables and fruits, herbs and spices, herbal teas and infusions, beverages, plant food supplements etc., and has steadily increased in the last decade (1, 2). The perception of consumers that such products are not only natural and safe but also beneficial to human health plays an important role in their growing use.
In the Council of Europe’s guidelines on plant-based food supplements (3) the reasons for the increased consumption are defined by socioeconomic factors such as longer life spans, higher education, active consumers etc. and behavioural factors whereby it has become a preference to use, where possible, only ‘natural’ products in order to maintain a certain level of physical and intellectual health. The consumer expects that such products are safe, perfectly defined, of properly controlled quality, possess a positive physiological effect in a healthy person on the basis of convincing traditional uses and/or strict scientific data, and ...