Brussels prompted a flood of abuse this week by apparently banning bottled water vendors from promoting their products as a counter to dehydration.
The European Food Standards Agency was asked to consider its "opinion on the scientific substantiation of a health claim related to water and reduced risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant decrease of performance".
The request for clarification was submitted by two German professors in 2008, in a bid to determine what health claims could be slapped on bottled water. A panel deliberated on the issue for three years, before the adjudication was delivered back in February, in time to hit the UK's Euro-sceptical media yesterday.
The two profs were admirably precise in defining the food they wanted clarification on, to wit, "water (chemical formula H2O, MW=18.015), a transparent, odourless and tasteless liquid (melting point: 0°C=273.15 K; boiling point: 100°C=373.15 K). In small quantities colourless, the colour of water in thick layers is of a slight blue hue. Water is generally considered an essential nutrient".
Specifically they were seeking guidance on the claim that "the regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration and the concomitant decrease of performance". The panel first clarified that "the food that is the subject of the health claim is water and the nature of dehydration as a disease".
After due deliberation, the panel concluded that "the proposed claim does not comply with the requirements for a disease risk reduction claim pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006". This sticking point appears to be whether water alone, and how much, will cure dehydration.
The panel did conclude in a separate opinion delivered in April this year that water did play a vital role in maintenance of thermoregulation and maintaining normal physical and cognitive functions. It recommended that in order to "obtain the desired effect" Europeans should drink at least 2 litres of the transparent, odourless, colourless liquid a day.
However, on the issue of water being "a basic requirement of all living things", it averred, concluding the "claimed effect is not sufficiently defined ... from the references provided it was not possible to establish which specific effect is the target for the claim".
The European Federation of Bottled Waters welcomed the panel's work, saying it "validates the fact that water intake is critical to our body’s basic physiological functions and essential for people’s health and well being". ®