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UK watchdog targets unauthorised supplement claims

By Shane Starling , 23-Dec-2010
Last updated on 23-Dec-2010 at 16:20 GMT

UK watchdog Which? says a product survey found many food supplements were making health claims not authorised by the European Food Safety Authority.

“Which? found plenty of products with these claims still on sale on the high street,” it said this week. “We also found supplements with potentially unsafe levels of vitamins and minerals without the recommended warnings in place.”

But the watchdog noted that while the claims are not authorised by EFSA, they can still be used until they enter EU law books.

“Keeping these unsubstantiated health claims on supplements isn’t illegal. Manufacturers will only be forced to remove them once the European Commission has taken EFSA’s findings to EU member states to vote on.”

Because of the huge number of claims submitted, completion of this process has been pushed back to the end of 2011.

They also noted that they had raised the maximum levels issue in 1995, but it was still yet to be resolved under the 2002 Food Supplements Directive (FSD).

“We’re concerned that people are being taken for a ride, needlessly paying a premium for many products on the basis of health claims on many products that haven’t been backed up by scientific evidence,” said Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith.

“We want to see the European Commission release a list of accepted and rejected claims as soon as possible, so that consumers won’t continue to be bamboozled by health claims they can’t trust. With many supplements also failing to carry voluntary warnings about high levels of vitamins and minerals you can overdose on, it’s also necessary that safe levels are agreed as soon as possible.”

Validity of claims

In response, Patrick Coppens, the secretary general of the European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA), said the Which? survey overlooked the benefits of supplementation.

“When used in accordance with the instructions in the labelling, food supplements represent a safe source of many useful vitamins, minerals and other substances,” he said. “It should be noted that while EFSA may have raised doubts about the validity of certain claims, this has not been the case for vitamins and minerals.

He added: “We are very much involved in the discussions relating to the scientific assessment of claims and some of EFSA's opinions have raised concerns because the negative opinions look to be the consequences of the approach rather that of the quality of the scientific evidence. It is in the interest of both consumers and manufacturers that clarity is provided to maintain confidence in many useful products on the market.”

Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health Supplements Information Service (HSIS) said the Which? report was inaccurate.

“This Which? report paints an incorrect picture of vitamins being a waste of money when they are in fact essential and many people have poor intakes, and also that health claims are unsubstantiated when the European Commission’s legislative process is not yet complete,” she said.

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