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Maximum levels should not be based on RDA, group says

By Alex McNally , 12-Dec-2007

A petition will today be handed to the Minister for Health in Ireland against a proposal to base the maximum levels for vitamins and minerals on recommended daily allowances - a concept which has been criticised as being 40 years out-of-date.

The Irish Association of Health Stores (IAHS) said they have a gathered tens of thousands of names demanding the Irish government and European Commission to "respect the right" of consumers to have high level doses. More than 60,000 people - some 1.5 per cent of the population of Ireland - have signed-up to the petition which will be handed to Minister Mary Harney. The sheer volume of signatures shows how important the issue is being taken, and IAHS is expecting more to come onboard. The commission is in the throes of harmonising the upper levels for minerals and vitamins across the bloc - a move met with contention as Member States differ radically on what they currently allow. In the UK, for example, lower levels would damage a traditionally high level economy worth some €325m. President Jill Bell is calling for "urgent intervention" as the Commission is in the final stages of the legislation. At the moment the Commission is considering what method to use to set the limits. In July it outlined possibilities from data sent to it by the European Food Safety Authority, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the US and the Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals (EVM). However, last month the Irish Department of Health, on the advice of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), recommended that the maximum permitted levels should be set at no more than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). IAHS said this was an "utterly outdated concept developed in the 1940s that has absolutely no bearing on safety whatsoever." Lost revenue Jill Bell said: "In effect, this would mean that Vitamin C would be available over the counter at doses of no more than 60mg. "It is outrageous that regulators focus on the supposed risks of food supplements, rather than on their very significant benefits, particularly given the nutrient-deficient diets that are so common nowadays." A legal challenge has not been ruled out should Europe set levels deemed too low. If levels lower than currently available are set, then scores of products will have to be removed from the shelves. "If the FSAI's recommendations are implemented across Europe, it will mean the loss of considerable revenue for this sector, with a likely domino effect, as it is estimated that over 50 per cent of health stores could be forced to close, with the possibility of over 1,000 job losses in this country," Bell added. Compromise The Department of Health argued in its submission to the Commission that setting the maximum levels at no more than RDA levels would "enable protection against unknown effects of excessive consumption of nutrients." Scientific Director of the Alliance for Natural Health Dr. Robert Verkerk, added: "This whole process of mandating low levels for supplements is a political decision, not a scientific one. It's about making a compromise for countries like Germany and Denmark that have long-held a view that doses over the RDA should be regarded as medicinal, because they know that these are the dosages that benefit people's health. "It's a sad day when the Department of Health in Ireland takes the same position, despite strong objections from Irish consumers and not a grain of evidence that anyone is being harmed by above-RDA supplementation."

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