The fresh-produce sector is being unfairly shackled by European authorities that do not allow it to make legitimate claims for the health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables, English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow has complained.
Since 2010, any such claims have to be authorised by the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) to protect the public from spurious claims. But in practice EFSA has failed to approve any further claims on health benefits, despite copious amounts of evidence having accumulated, said Barlow.
"I understand the intention, but we can't make claims that we should be able to, on cancer, on stroke and heart disease, or respiratory diseases, diabetes and obesity. It's crazy," he added.
"The only claims we can make are extremely limited, like the fact that apples have no sodium or cholesterol."
With the support of continental trade body FreshFel Europe, Barlow has written to the European Commission urging it to give EFSA responsibility for monitoring research, collating and assessing the results and then highlighting any additional research that may be required to make legitimate health claims.
"EFSA has to take more responsibility - it will cost money but the savings will massively exceed that," he pointed out.
"They may say that individually a claim doesn't stand up, and indeed no one piece of research allows you to say conclusively that, for example, apples reduce the risk of asthma. But they should look at all the evidence collectively, from which conclusions can be clearly drawn."
Pointing out that the target of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, adopted by governments and agencies across Europe, is still well short of being met, Barlow said: "We need every piece of evidence to place in front of the public. They are the ones who stand to gain from this."
The European Commission has yet to respond to Barlow's proposals.
Adrian Barlow, chief executive, English Apples & Pears
"There are large stocks because of the month we lost last year, including record stocks of Gala and Braeburn, and a very good range of other new and established varieties. Cox will go through to early April, while we have enough Braeburn and some new varieties will last until May. It's good news for the consumer, who can enjoy a greater range of fruit for longer."