It is now crunch time for saving our supplements. For those of you unfamiliar with the issue, what does 'saving our supplements' mean?
The EU Food Supplements Directive (2002/46/EC) proposes to restrict levels of vitamins and minerals permitted in supplements throughout the EU this year. It's a harmonising measure, designed to facilitate trade between EU countries by evening out the amounts of vitamins and minerals allowed in supplements. (Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have traditionally permitted higher dosages than other countries.) In so doing, it will make it easier for multinational pharmaceutical companies, who âspecialiseâ in very low dose supplements, to maximise their profits from this sector of their business. (For more information on the Directive, see my blog entry SOS! Save Our Supplements!)
The EU claims the Food Supplements Directive is a safety measure, designed to protect consumers from overdosing on vitamins and minerals. Not so. The safety card was played only when officials realised the extent of opposition to the proposals. A trade harmonising measure is not a safety measure; it does not address quality control. It may lead de facto to less safety for the consumer if it forces people who want high-strength supplements to shop on the Internet, with all the attendant risks regarding quality.
If the Directive goes ahead as proposed, it will become illegal to sell Vitamin A supplements in doses greater than you would find in half a carrot; selenium supplements in doses greater than you'd find in a quarter of a Brazil nut; and Vitamin D supplements in doses greater than your body would make by being exposed to 25 seconds of sunlight. That's seconds, not minutes!
Why haven't concerned consumers shown more outrage at this proposal? Many have: 60,000 Irish citizens petitioned the Irish Government and the EU in December 2007, voicing concerns that harmonising levels of vitamins and minerals as proposed by the Directive would impact negatively upon consumers, health shops and practitioners in Ireland. Others seem to believe it is not happening. But it is, behind the scenes. Like a frog boiling slowly, consumers have been lulled into a false sense of security by an apparent lack of activity. It may take the sudden unavailability of a product relied upon by a consumer for the implications to hit, but hit they will if the Directive goes ahead as proposed.
All is not lost, though. Yet. On Monday 19 January, a group of Irish petitioners, including Ms Jill Bell and Ms Erica Murray from the Irish Association of Health Stores (IAHS) and Dr Robert Verkerk from the UK-based Alliance for Natural Health, met with the European Parliament's Petitions Committee in Brussels to defend the 60,000-strong petition. Instead of closing the petition down, in accordance with the European Commission's apparent goal, the Petitions Committee insisted that it be kept open.
Furthermore, the chairman requested that the issues be referred to the European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) for further consideration. The European Commission, architect of the Directive, was also asked to provide a written response to the Petitions Committee on the challenges raised at Monday's meeting. Four of the seven Irish members of the European Parliament's Committee who attended the meeting and participated in the discussions expressed concerns over the Commission's proposals and the potential impact on businesses and consumers, as did the only UK MEP participating in the discussion, Mr Roger Helmer. There were no dissenting voices among MEPs present.
On a scientific level, Dr Robert Verkerk, scientific advisor to the IAHS, said: 'There are numerous scientific flaws in the risk management methods being considered by the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority [EFSA], and small businesses and health-conscious consumers will be the real losers if the approach is not altered to reflect the known science.' Dr Verkerk urged that real scientific debate should begin following the imminent release of the Commission's draft proposals for maximum levels.
Mr Basil Mathioudakis, Head of the Food, Law, Nutrition and Labelling Unit, presented the European Commission's case. He indicated that he expected the Commission would be ready to publish draft maximum levels in March of this year. In response to the Irish petition, he stated that the main purpose of the proposed law was consumer protection. He also mentioned that there were political, as well as scientific, pressures to lower dosages of supplements in countries that traditionally permit higher doses, such as Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
Ms Jill Bell, chair of the IAHS, said: 'â¦ We look forward to the opening of more detailed discussions and are optimistic that the importance of up-to-date science may now impact on the EFSA's deliberations. Any delay in the setting of MPLs is to be greatly welcomed if based on the application of sound science and proportionate law, and all parties should be pleased if such a meeting of minds can be achieved.'
Let's hope delaying the process will allow a more robust determination of MPLs to be achieved. To end on a positive note, the Chairman of the Petitions Committee said the Irish petitioners would be invited back to the Petitions Committee in due course.
For more information, check out:
http://www.anhcampaign.org/news/anh-pre ... n-brussels
http://www.nutraingredients.com (general health information)
P.S. UPDATING THE UPDATE!
The controversial issues surrounding the implementation of the proposed law were further debated at an open meeting of the Food Safety Consultative Council of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in Dublin on Tuesday 27 January. The main speakers were Dr Robert Verkerk, executive and scientific director of the Alliance of Natural Health, who also represented the IAHS; Dr Mary Flynn, chief specialist in Public Health Nutrition for the FSAI; Basil Mathioudakis, from the food law unit of the European Commission; and Dr Alan Ruth, CEO of the Irish Health Trade Association, the Irish trade body representing manufacturers and distributors. Eighty registered members of the public â including health store owners, nutritional therapists and consumers â also attended.
Dr Verkerk challenged, from a scientific standpoint, Dr Flynn's assertions that RDAs represent optimum intake levels and that higher-level supplements are unsafe. Dr Ruth also criticised the Irish Government's reliance on the RDA. 'It's actually illegal, based on European case law, for a government to insist on limiting dosages to less than three times the RDA on the basis that it can be shown â as is generally the case â that such doses present no risk to public health,' he said.
Dr Verkerk also questioned the scientific basis of the EFSA's risk analysis methods, which have found negatively in relation to certain vitamins and minerals but have recently cleared the form of fluoride used in toothpaste and other oral hygiene products for use in supplements.
Mr Mathioudakis confirmed that the European Commission was planning to propose that no maximum levels be set for vitamins and minerals for which there were no identified safety concerns.
Please check out the following web page for a more detailed account of the meeting:
http://www.anhcampaign.org/news/anh-pre ... in-ireland