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Commission defended over maximum levels accusation

By Alex McNally , 23-Oct-2007

Allegations that the European Commission is unwilling to listen to demands to keep high amounts for vitamins and minerals in foodstuffs are unfounded, a Brussels trade group has said.

The European Responsible Nutrition Alliance (ERNA) hit out today after the Commission was accused of showing "intransigence of thinking" and an unwillingness to listen by UK lobbyists Consumers for Health Choice (CHC). The Commission is currently in the process of harmonising levels across the bloc, under the Food Supplements Directive. Member states at the moment vary dramatically on maximum and minimum levels in minerals and vitamins, which would come to an end once Europe-wide unification is imposed. CHC chairman Mike Peet said at a parliamentary reception last week that the directive is "indicative of all the worst aspects of the European Union - an indifferent, aloof and unresponsive institution, unaccountable to and unheeding of the freedoms of individual citizens, determined to foist a one-size-fits-all approach on diverse national traditions." The group also said it would report the Commission to the ombudsman because it has not listened to its concerns. However, ERNA defended the Commission, and this morning told NutraIngredients.com that it had shown transparency and care in drawing up the legislation. Gert Krabichler, ERNA chairman, said: "It is our experience that the European Commission has progressed with great care and transparency on this dossier over the last years. '"The European Commission has published a discussion paper in the course of last year where all stakeholders have been invited to share their thoughts. These comments have all been published and it is on the basis of this that the European Commission is now initiating discussions with the Member States," he said. Member states met for the first time last month to discuss the orientation paper, and will meet again this month to continue talks. Krabichler added: "ERNA trusts that maximum levels will be set based on the principle of safety and the upper tolerable intake levels set by the European Food Safety Authority." The views of the two groups show just how serious the setting of maximum levels for vitamins and minerals is to industry bodies. Traditionally the UK and The Netherlands are two of the most lenient markets. High dose products account for 12 to 15 per cent of the £220m (€325m) UK vitamin and mineral market, and the UK industry would suffer a severe blow if the EU legislation were to prohibit the sale of high dose products. CHC director Sue Croft said the group stands by its earlier comments. She said: "The recent Commission Orientation Paper fails accurately to reflect existing EU food law, by suggesting that supplements cannot have any side effects when clearly foods such as chilli and peanuts can and do, and it also fails to make any commitment to review the now out of date recommendations by EFSA where it has set unnecessarily restrictive levels. "We did file a complaint with the ombudsman, it was rejected on a technicality in that we needed first to write to the Commission directly to complain. We have now done so and if we are unhappy with their response we will revert to the ombudsman to investigate." The lobbyists have made several high profile announcements calling for higher levels. The group took out an advert calling for the Commission president to stay away from restrictive levels. Calls have also been made in Ireland by the Irish Association of Nutritional Therapists and the Irish Association of Health Stores to keep high levels.

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