Science in Society Archive

European Directive Against Vitamins & Minerals

First 300 key vitamins and minerals axed, now 5 000 supplements banned by "insane" EU Directive. Sam Burcher reports on the right to freedom for the £1.6 billion alternative health industry.

The Alliance of Natural Health (ANH) is set to legally challenge the contentious EU Directive on Food Supplements (FSD). The FSD passed into European law in July 2002 and effectively brings about a ban on 300 nutrients included in 5 000 health products, most of which are in dietary supplements closest to food forms.

In July this year, the House of Commons Standing Committee for FSD Regulations met and voted the Food Supplement Directive through into English, Scottish and Welsh law. Dr Robert Verkerk, executive director of London-based ANH hopes a successful challenge would result in the FSD being overturned by all EU states.

The ANH represent the interests of a number of organisations including the British Association of Complimentary Medicine and the British Society for Allergy Environmental and Nutritional Medicine as well as a number of independent manufactures, suppliers and distributors of vitamins and minerals. Together they suggest the existing Directive be replaced with a revised FSD that allows for high quality, effective supplements across the whole of Europe. This would effectively harmonise to good standards, not bad ones.

Three other Directives concerning Herbal Medicine, Novel Foods and EU Medicines are under consideration, but have not yet been ratified into UK law. The appropriation of traditional products is likely to increase with food supplements, food substances and food/beverages (health drinks and fruit juices) suppressed by EU Directives repackaged as "Nutraceuticals" and sold by pharmaceutical companies. (See box 1)

Two Labour MPs have voiced concerns about the way the Regulations were voted through by the Standing Committee. Kate Hoey MP (Vauxhall) revealed what happened: "I was a member of this committee until I said, very honestly, that I would vote against the regulations." She was, together with five other MPs, "unceremoniously removed" from the committee the night before the vote took place and replaced with MPs who voted in favour of the FSD.

According to Kate Hoey, this gives a clear message that the government cares more for the pharmaceutical industry that it does about ordinary people. Her views are shared by Jeremy Corbyn MP (Islington), he said: "The FSD is a product of ruthless lobbying tactics by the pharmaceutical industry which is not keen on the diversity of supply of vitamin supplements available in health food shops." He backs the ANH move to legally challenge the Directive.

Legal challenges are seldom made to the 40 000 EU Directives implemented since the UK joined the Common Market in 1972, ostensibly to share in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). But Conservative MP Daniel Hannan complained to the Daily Telegraph last September 3, that, "whenever you see an apparently insane Brussels Directive, someone, somewhere stands to gain." And in his view, the Directives affecting natural remedies resulted because of lobbying by the large pharmaceutical companies. (See box 2)

MEP, Nigel Farrage said that on one occasion, MEPs were required to vote on Directives 450 times in one 80-minute session. He freely admitted that it was a farce and he voted as he was told.

To simply question the validity of food supplementation is no longer enough when it is generally acknowledged that modern food production methods and deterioration of soil due to intensive farming are affecting vitamins and mineral content in food. For example, levels of the mineral selenium (Se) declined 50% between 1974-1991 and the UK population selenium levels are lower than many other European countries. Scientific studies show selenium is an essential nutrient associated with the function of major metabolic pathways, and taken up rapidly by the body when given as a dietary supplement. Also well established is the fact that dietary selenium is important for a healthy immune response, and the effects of its deficiency can include decreased T-cell counts and impaired lymphocyte proliferation. Fourteen forms of selenium, including the organic forms, selenium yeast and selenomethionine are forbidden on 'The Positive List'

In fact vulnerable groups such as the elderly, pregnant and those coping with chronic diseases such as arthritis can all benefit from food supplements. But, in essence, the FSD is another blow to the individual's freedom to choose how to look after their health, be it in conjunction with a good diet, or simply as a preventative against developing a chronic disease. Increasing visits to GPs to obtain the correct supplements, as the Directive would have us do will not suit the overburdened Health Service at all, but it might just serve the big corporations.

Box 1
Some of the 300 vitamins and mineral excluded from the FSD positive list
Boron (All forms) Required for absorption of calcium
Vitamin E (naturally occurring tocopherols and toctotrienols)Antioxidants, which protect against damage by free radicals, associated with cancer and other degenerative diseases.
Calcium (23 food forms)For bones, teeth and cell function
Chromium (17 forms)For balancing blood sugar levels, widely used by diabetics
Magnesium (30 forms)Healthy bones and teeth
Potassium (21 forms)Maintains blood pressure and heart beat rhythm
Silica (All forms)Works in conjunction with boron, calcium, and other minerals to support bones, arteries, connective tissue, hair, skin and nails
Selenium (14 forms)Antioxidant, important for heart function. Contributes to healthy immune response.

The dietary supplement Glucosamine, a combination ofminerals,vitamins and fatty acids bought by millions of arthritis suffers toease their painful symptoms has been banned as a food supplement by theMedicines Agency in Denmark and Sweden. Instead it is has been allowed on tothe shelves as an over the counter medicine produced by Recip Glucosine andPharma Nord - two pharmaceutical companies.

Box 2
The Food Supplements Directive covers two fundamental areas:
1. The types of vitamins and minerals that may be legally sold from mid-2005.
2. The maximum doses at which they may be supplied from 2006.

The EU Commission has designated a list of permissible nutrients called 'The Positive List.' Specialist vitamin manufactures have expressed concern that their products containing organic ingredients, excluded from the 'List', are being compromised by synthetic or inorganic equivalents that are on the 'List.' All attempts to include a number of organic vitamins and minerals have been refused. Not only that, but to register their high quality products for sale could cost up to £250,00 per nutrient plus evidence of their safety. All nutrients must be paid for and registered by August 2005, putting small, large and medium suppliers of food supplements under intense pressure.

Maximum doses or Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamins and minerals will be negotiated over the next 18 months. Levels are to be set by the EU Scientific Committee to Food (SCF), who are not accountable to any government or parliament and have banned 300 nutrients so far (See box 1). Two commonly occurring vitamins, which have a wealth of scientific study to support their validity, are vitamin C and vitamin B6. The ANH fear RDA doses will be rendered so low that consumers will have to buy much more of the product to receive their current nutritional dose or that they might disappear from the shelves altogether.

Article first published 05/10/03


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