February 9/Brussels/Agence France Presse -- After bombarding consumers with a barrage of confusing messages about the health benefits of probiotic bacteria, major players in the world’s highest-selling functional food category admit they may have to concede defeat and that the industry could disappear altogether.

At a Probiotics Summit in Brussels, a spokesman for Danone, the largest fresh dairy product maker in the world, said the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) continuous rejection of health claims by hundreds of applicants offers little hope that the probiotics industry will be able to survive, attendees heard.

EFSA maintains that the science behind such claims is flimsy at best and had rejected 260 out of 300 probiotic health claim submissions as of last November. Nor is the U.S. FDA convinced that probiotics carry scientifically proven health benefits, treading carefully around the subject.

In 2008, the U.S. arm of the company, Dannon, was slapped with a class-action lawsuit for making misleading health claims and agreed to pony up $35 million to consumers, in addition to making changes to the labeling and advertising of Activia and DanActive.

Danone also withdrew claims that Activia improves digestion and slow transit and that its Actimel strengthens the body’s natural defenses.

Some studies claim that probiotics can improve digestive health, treat everything from diarrhea to irritable bowel syndrome and urinary tract infections, reduce bladder recurrence, and prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu.

From the February 10, 2012, Prepared Foods' Daily News.