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Features November 2013 Issue

How do Probiotic Manufacturers Get Away With Their Health Claims?

Even some of the better made probiotic products on the market come with claims that they will “maintain your dog’s digestive balance,” “promote intestinal and immune health balance,” and “reestablish healthy intestinal balance.” How can they get away with that if the evidence for probiotics’ beneficial effects is so scant?

The reason is that such assertions are structure/function claims rather than health claims. It’s a legal distinction that lets manufacturers off the hook. A health claim says a product will help cure or mitigate a particular disease or condition. If any probiotic product bore such a claim, it would be yanked from store shelves.

A structure/function claim like those mentioned above, on the other hand, “doesn’t mean much of anything, particularly for animals with GI signs,” says Dr. Jan Sucholdoski, a veterinarian at Texas A&M University. “This game is allowed” in the U.S., he points out, but not in Europe.

“The science is very uniform,” he adds. Scientific researchers “have a consensus” that probiotics present a worthy avenue of scientific investigation that is currently in its early stages. “I think overly aggressive marketing by industry is the problem,” he says. That’s where the uniformity ends and the race for better sales tactics begin.

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