Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
A specific health claim may only be made in relation to a food if the claim is "authorised" and listed on the EU Register (rule 15.1.1). A general health claim is a reference to a general benefit of a nutrient or food for overall good health or health-related well-being and must be accompanied by a specific authorised health claim (rule 15.2).
- What kind of claim is “antioxidant”?
- Is “antioxidant” an appropriate rewording of “contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress”?
- Are there any circumstances where “antioxidant” could be used in an ad for food?
- What about “on hold” claims?
What kind of claim is “antioxidant”?
The ASA has ruled that, because the term "antioxidant" refers to the function of a substance on the body, it is a specific health claim (PepsiCo International Ltd, 8 January 2014).
When assessing the claims "antioxidant" and "antioxidant family" the ASA decided that they are not references to a general, non-specific benefit of the product for overall health which would be dealt with by rule 15.2.
It’s worth noting that the ASA took into account the guidance provided by the Department of Health and the European Commission in relation to the interpretation of “contains antioxidants” under the Regulation which underpins Section 15 of the CAP Code, and considered that the documents were clear that such claims were health claims which must be authorised on the EU Register (PepsiCo International Ltd, 8 January 2014). In light of the PepsiCo ruling, use of the claim “antioxidant” should not be treated as a general health claim.
The ASA ruled against the claim “antioxidant protection” because the advertiser was unable to provide evidence that it was listed as authorised on the EU Register (Water for Health Ltd, 27 May 2015). Similarly, “antioxidant repair” was ruled unacceptable (The Juice Garden, 15 June 2016) as was “Rich in Antioxidants” (vitaburncoffee.com, 24 July 2013).
Is “antioxidant” an appropriate rewording of “contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress”?
No. The ASA ruled that the claim "Vitamin C ... it's an antioxidant" was an unacceptable rewording because the claim did not convey to consumers the full meaning of the authorised health claim "contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress". The ASA did not agree with the argument that "antioxidant" and "protection from oxidative stress" were broadly synonymous (GlaxoSmithKline UK Ltd, 7 May 2014).
The claim “ANTIOXIDANT FAMILY Juice Smoothies loaded with nature's elite fighting force to defend your body against free radicals (those nasty little molecules that attack your cells and could have an impact on your overall health)” was found to exaggerate the meaning of the authorised health claim “Vitamin C contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress” and therefore breached rules 15.1 and 15.1.1 (PepsiCo International Ltd, 8 January 2014).
Please see 'Food: Specific health claims' for more detail in relation to what might be appropriate circumstances for changing the wording of authorised health claims.
Are there any circumstances where “antioxidant” could be used in an ad for food?
We understand that the European Commission and the Department of Health have indicated that where a nutrient is able to bear a specific authorised health claim which relates to protection from oxidative stress, it may be possible to refer to that nutrient as an “antioxidant” in order to aid consumer understanding as long as the authorised wording is not replaced.
This means wording such as “Product X contains vitamin C which contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress, which means that vitamin C is an antioxidant” could be potentially be acceptable (please note that the reference is to the nutrient, not the product in general, follows the specific authorised claim and should not be given more prominence than the authorised claim).
Please note that the ASA has not yet ruled on this point and so if marketers are considering using this in advertising they should be aware that the ASA may investigate in order to establish a position.
What about “on hold” claims?
“Antioxidant” claims were the focus of the ASA’s first published ruling on an “on hold” claim for a botanical supplement; because the claim was "on hold" the ASA reviewed the evidence submitted by the advertiser. The ASA ruled that the "antioxidant" claims in the ad breached the Code because they exaggerated the claims submitted to EFSA. In addition, having reviewed the evidence, the ASA considered that the claims had not been substantiated (Pharma Nord (UK) Ltd, 10 December 2014).
Updated 26 September 2016