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Czechs: EC must clarify food supplement enforcement policies

By Shane Starling , 11-Jan-2010
Last updated on 12-Jan-2010 at 11:33 GMT2010-01-12T11:33:52Z

The European Commission needs to let the European supplements industry know how the Food Supplements Directive (FSD) will be enforced across the 27-member bloc, as companies deal with existing stocks that contain now prohibited nutrients, a Czech trade association has said.

The Czech Association of Special Foods (CASP) said many players were unsure how to proceed, and called on the EC “to communicate with industry” about enforcement procedures for the Directive, which became enforceable from January 1, 2010.

“While it could be said that it is better not to know than be told that all products have to be removed tomorrow, we would prefer some kind of statement so that the position is clear,” said CASP president, Martina Simova.

Non-approved chromium forms that tended to originate in the US, where they are legal and present in many supplements, were the most common problem area in the € 170m Czech food supplements industry , Simova said.

Transition periods

The Czech situation is complicated, she said, by the fact that the Czech Ministry of Health gave assurances to the industry that a 12-month transition period would be granted, meaning any products bearing unapproved nutrients could remain on-market through 2010.

That assurance, relevant as recently as December last year, has been subsequently withdrawn as the Ministry revealed it did not in fact have the authority to grant such an extension.

Simova said the Ministry had been in contact with the EC to try and work out some kind of compromise position, and was due to report back to industry the results of those discussions imminently.

In the meantime, the CASP had been in touch with other trade associations to determine the situation in other member states, and is considering directly contacting the enforcement agency in the Czech republic - Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority (CAFIA).

“If there is no possibility elsewhere we will consider negotiating directly with the control body (CAFIA),” she said. “The ministers have promised to find a solution so we wait to hear from them what the situation is.”

Going soft?

The 2002 Food Supplements Directive became enforceable on January 1 this year but the manner of its enforcement is unclear. The EC told last week that enforcement was the remit of member state agencies like CAFIA, unless it received specific consumer complaints in which case it may act independently.

But trade associations in some member states believe the EC needs to do more because the member state enforcement agencies are waiting to be led on the issue, creating a potentially very damaging ambiguity.

Although it has only been a matter of days, an EC spokesperson said she had no knowledge of any enforcement action taken in any EU member state.

The argument for “soft enforcement” is bolstered by the fact some substances have failed to make the FSD positive lists of vitamins and minerals and their sub-forms, not because they have been deemed unsafe necessarily, but because European Food Safety Authority scientists have found a lack of evidence demonstrating safety.

The Czech market is dominated by eastern European supplements giant, Walmark, but supports about 500 small-to-medium enterprises and features about 4000 individual products.

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