"EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration" screamed the Telegraph (and my Facebook feed; hence my interest). Blimey, a three-year investigation, pompous Eurocrats, needless time-wasting, and all they can say is that water doesn’t make you hydrated. CRAZY!

So what’s the truth?

It’s not much less bureaucratic, and some EU rulings genuinely are crazy, but this seems to actually have been the two lawyers’ fault. According to the actual ruling (available here - only a page long), they applied by first stating that dehydration was a “disease” (which any sane person I’d guess would say it’s not - disease implies transmission; this would be a “condition”, but maybe I’m splitting hairs). Under the spurious health claims rules for diseases, a product has to show that it reduces a risk factor for that disease to claim that it reduces the chance of suffering the disease itself. So far, so fair enough.

Their suggestions for “risk factors” for dehydration in the general population were “water loss in tissues” or “reduced water content in tissues”, which the authority ruled were both measures of the “disease” itself and not risk factors. In other words, if your tissue water content is reduced, you are dehydrated, it’s not a separate condition.

Their claim was therefore thrown out effectively on a technicality. They couldn’t come up with an “x leads to dehydration” risk factor (why they didn’t use “not drinking enough”, or call it something other than a disease, I’m baffled) and they got stung on it. They’re lawyers used to dealing with the EFSA and they should’ve known better. Which would then make me wonder if this was a deliberate shoot-for-a-refusal in order to gain publicity or to make the EU look worse than it already does at a time when there’s political leverage to gain by doing so - their quotes in the Telegraph would certainly support this. Since we don’t know who they were bringing the case on behalf of - themselves or a manufacturer - we can’t know, though.

For what it’s worth, while the petition to make the claim has a “2008-05014” identifier on it, suggesting it was lodged with EFSA in 2008, they didn’t start considering it until January this year so I rather doubt it was a “three-year investigation”. Especially since it mostly seems to have involved some Q&A with the lawyers (one would assume by email) and then deciding the case at a committee meeting (at which other claims may or may not have been discussed; I freely confess to having no clue how EFSA cases are heard. Maybe all 22 panel members are flown in person to them in personal hoverjets fuelled by liquid gold, but that’s largely irrelevant - this one was only heard because these guys chose to put it before them).