SOS! Save Our Supplements!

I’ve discovered a video on You Tube that says it all when it comes to the EU’s Food Supplements Directive. Please check it out at If the link doesn’t work, paste it into your browser and you’ll be directed to the video.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Directive, a summary of what it means to you, the Irish consumer, follows.

The Food Supplements Directive (2002/46/EC) was voted through the European Parliament in 2002. In Ireland, the Food Supplements Directive falls within the remit of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which advises the Department of Health and Children.

Under the directive, the European Food Safety Authority gets to decide the maximum level for each vitamin and mineral per unit dose (that is, per tablet, per capsule, etc.) to be allowed on open sale in health food shops and other outlets across Europe. All indications suggest that ‘Maximum Permitted Levels’ (MPLs) will be reduced to those available in France and Germany, where no tradition of higher-level food supplements exists. The levels of vitamins and minerals that have been available on open sale in Ireland and Britain for decades will be drastically reduced to close to the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance), established decades ago to prevent specific deficiency diseases, such as scurvy and rickets. RDAs were never intended as a basis for the setting of safe upper levels.

Sounds fine, doesn’t it? They’re only concerned with our safety, after all, aren’t they? Can’t taking too high a dose of vitamins and minerals be dangerous? Well … no, actually. The EU’s proposals take no account of the fact that for 40 years, higher-level food supplements have been used safely in this country and in the UK. There is not a single record of a serious side effect from taking higher level vitamins and minerals. In the US, where the regulations regarding vitamins and minerals are extremely liberal, Poisons Centres recorded almost 800,000 deaths from medical intervention – including prescription drugs – in 2005 (the last year for which figures are available) but zero deaths from vitamins.

The Directive is not a safety measure, in spite of what proponents might say. It is actually a harmonising measure. That means that it is designed to facilitate the smooth workings of the internal European market. As such, its primary purpose is to regulate trade and commerce throughout the EU. It was never intended as a regulatory tool to ensure consumer safety and protection. But as opposition to the directive has grown, regulators have increasingly touted safety as the main purpose of the directive. Ironic, really, given that they aim to reduce MPLs to a point where they have little or no relevance to the promotion of health or to individual needs.

If the directive is put into effect, you’ll no longer be able to buy 1000mg tablets of Vitamin C to keep winter woes at bay; you’ll have to be content with a 60mg tablet instead. At least you won’t fall prey to scurvy. But it won’t help you get over that cold quickly, or prevent it from pestering you in the first place. You may find it hard to get your mineral needs met, especially given the increasingly depleted state of our soils due to intensive and chemical-based agriculture, in the absence of high-quality, higher dose and highly absorbed forms of minerals. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Setting vitamin and mineral levels so low will impact the Irish consumer in the following ways:

1. The consumer’s right to choose will be eroded.
2. People will become less well as they are increasingly unable to supplement any dietary shortfalls with high quality vitamins and minerals.
3. The already overburdened health service will become even more burdened.
4. Pharmaceutical companies will have a monopoly on health and disease.
5. Supplement companies will no longer have the incentive to create cutting edge products.
6. Thousands of jobs will be lost as a result of health-related businesses collapsing.

I suffer from migraine. I can walk into any pharmacy and buy, over the counter, a box of painkillers containing paracetamol, codeine and caffeine with nothing more than the pharmacist’s mandatory question: ‘Have you taken these before?’ and a warning not to take them with other paracetamol-containing products. Paracetamol is highly toxic to the liver in relatively small doses. Codeine is an addictive, opiate-based painkiller, a cousin to heroin. Caffeine is also addictive and ultimately a cause of migraine. If the Food Supplements Directive goes through, I won’t be able to walk into my health food shop and buy the high-strength magnesium supplements I need to keep my migraine at bay.

Does this make sense?

Who does the directive benefit?

Not me, the consumer. That’s for sure.

Please write to your TDs and MEPs if you want to halt the progress of the directive, check out … riting.php for a ‘form’ letter to send to your politician.

Check out the following web sites:

Or you can pop into the shop for more information.


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