Unilever has insisted it is “extremely relaxed” about a lawsuit it faces in Germany over health claims associated with Flora pro.activ.
Flora pro.activ – sold under the name Becel pro.activ in Germany – derives its cholesterol-lowering properties from plant sterols, which are added to the product. German consumer rights group Foodwatch claims Unilever is not doing enough to inform consumers about the risks associated with plant sterols and potential side effects, and has filed a lawsuit in Hamburg.
Unilever had claimed there was “no indication” that its pro.activ products produced unwanted side-effects, Foodwatch said on its website.
“In fact, the plant sterols that are added to the spread are highly contentious among scientists,” the group said, adding that it hoped its lawsuit would prevent Unilever from “obfuscating worrying risks and side effects” associated with sterols in the future.
Unilever issued a robust response to the accusations, saying pro.activ was a “healthy and safe” product that had been approved under strict EU novel foods regulations. Its efficacy had been shown in 45 studies, the company said.
“We really are extremely relaxed about this,” a spokesman for Unilever Germany told thegrocer.co.uk.
The lawsuit represents the latest clash between Foodwatch and Unilever over pro.activ. Last year, the group launched a campaign calling for pro.activ to be treated as a pharmaceutical product and no longer sold freely in supermarkets. This was dismissed as scaremongering by Unilever at the time.
Foodwatch was founded in Germany in late 2009 and campaigns on a wide range of food-related consumer rights issues, with a particular focus on misleading labelling and advertising claims. The group has opened a branch in the Netherlands and has said it plans to come to the UK in the future, although it was not able to say when.