EU issues a stupid law about drinking water and dehydration? Not so fast!
All over the news are items about how stupid EU “bans” an advertising claim that drinking water prevents dehydration. Some outlets make it a vehicle for purely political slogans like ‘If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project then this is it.’
Here’s the EFSA advise piece which started the derpstorm (pdf): http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/1982.pdf
Here’s what a EU spokesman said about how binding it allegedly is::
(Interestingly, it’s from the same article that deceptively claims that EU said that water “is not healthy” - of course, it did no such thing. It’s a lie.)
Of course drinking water is essential for health and the commission is not stopping anyone from saying so.
This is a specific case with specific characteristics. Either way the final decision is for member states.
Moreover, this advise ruling was not an initiative of EFSA, so it’s not a case of a government having too much time on its hands. Rather it was a response to a specific request to make a ruling on a very specific statement. Judging by the fact that one of the people behind the request is now taking the case to the court, the request itself may have been filed with an agenda.
Anyway, Martin Robbins at The Lay Scientist has a closer look at the claims about this ruling and about associated hysteria. He concludes:
So the ruling seems pretty sensible to me, or at least as sensible as a ruling can be when the claim being tested is vexatious in the first place. It’s accurate advice, and it prevents companies selling bottled water from making exaggerated claims for their products, which is a good thing. They even have the support of the British Soft Drinks Association, who tweeted just as this piece was going live with the following statement:
The European Food Safety Authority has been asked to rule on several ways of wording the statement that drinking water is good for hydration and therefore good for health. It rejected some wordings on technicalities, but it has supported claims that drinking water is good for normal physical and cognitive functions and normal thermoregulation.
It’s also an great opportunity to challenge received wisdom, and to make the point that keeping the human body hydrated is about much more than just drinking tap water when you’re thirsty. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of journalists are more interested in promoting second-hand hysteria than informing their readers. Which is a bit sad.
Here’s the original test claim as evaluated by EFSA:
Regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant decrease of performance
Quite aside from the ruling, simply speaking, it’s not true by nature of vagueness. What is “regular”? Once a week? It won’t save from dehydration. What’s “significant” (and why not “sufficient”)? Under what conditions? Etc. IOW, it’s a usual “feel-good”, superficially common-sensical, but scientifically meaningless advertisement gimmick. “Brawndo has electrolytes. That’s what plants crave”. “Regular intake of significant amounts of air can reduce the risk of development of asphyxiation and of concomitant kicking of the bucket. Buy our air.”.
Just in case you wonder, here’s the same agency’s “Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for water”. Yes, Sherlock, they know about dehydration.
And just for fun, read “Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to water and maintenance of normal physical and cognitive functions (ID 1102, 1209, 1294, 1331), maintenance of normal thermoregulation (ID 1208) and “basic requirement of all living things” (ID 1207) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006”. This document explains at length what factors (such as clarity, specificity, etc.) are important in the review process.
It is incorrect to state that the panel rejected a claim that drinking water prevents dehydration. They rejected the specific language that was proposed to them, which was framed in terms of reduction of a risk for development of a disease, not the claim that you should keep yourself sufficiently hydrated to prevent dehydration.
Finally, numerous blog and outlets lie about there being a “three year investigation”. There wasn’t. A claim was submitted in 2008, there was a back and forth of letters, and the evaluation procedure was started on 17.11.10, with the opinion adopted on 28.01.11 (note that it doesn’t mean that there was a 2.5 months investigation either; they have hundreds of claims to evaluate at the same time).