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EU food supplement concerns tabled in UK parliament

By Shane Starling , 18-Jan-2013
Last updated the 23-Jan-2013 at 00:19 GMT

Questions have been tabled in Westminster about the future of food supplements in the EU and the UK
Questions have been tabled in Westminster about the future of food supplements in the EU and the UK

UK Liberal Democrat MP Dr John Pugh wants to know what changes in EU food supplement laws were discussed in a meeting this week between new European health commissioner Tonio Borg, and Jeremy Hunt, the UK Secretary of State for Health.

Dr Pugh tabled two questions directed at Hunt: One double-barrelled query asking if a timetable had been discussed for resolving maximum permitted levels (MPLs) for nutrients in food supplements as laid out in the 2002 Food Supplements Directive (FSD).

He then asked if the FSD would be extended beyond vitamins and minerals to include supplements containing ingredients of plant, fish and animal origin.

The other question enquired about Hunt’s contact with the National Association of Health Stores (NAHS), “about the effects on independent food retailers of setting maximum permitted levels under the provisions of Article 5 of the Food Supplements Directive.”

Awareness drive

The questions follow an FSD-MPL-awareness raising letter written in the week by Dr Pugh – along with Labour MP Kate Hoey and Conservative MP Marcus Jones – to the UK broadsheet The Telegraph, where they warned of devastation to the UK supplements industry if conservative EU MPL measures were implemented.

Larger supplement firms that trade across the EU, as represented by groups like the Council for Responsible Nutrition UK, generally back harmonisation as it will bring cost savings in labelling, marketing and formulation.

They, along with another Liberal Democrat, Andrew George, also tabled a parliamentary motion stating the setting of restrictive MPLs was, disproportionate and unnecessary”.

The MPs are supporters of Consumers for Health Choice (CHC), the pro-free market UK lobby group. CHC director of strategy, Chris Whitehosue, said the letter and tabled parliamentary questions were part of a campaign to maintain pressure, “to make clear to the Commission that they support consumers’ right to access safe, high potency supplements.”

“We have much more Parliamentary activity planned in the run-up to the launch of new our social media campaign.”

The difficulty the UK faces is that for most other EU countries, new MPLs will actually have a liberalising effect, while the UK is the EU’s most open and therefore has the most to lose if severe dosage restrictions are imposed.

The parliamentary motion in full:

"That this House notes that tens of millions of British consumers have been taking safe and popular vitamin and mineral supplements for many decades to help them achieve and maintain optimum health;

  • observes that such supplements are already required to be safe and appropriately-labelled under the provisions of the Food Safety Act;
  • congratulates Consumers for Health Choice on its campaigns to defend consumer choice in this area; rejects as disproportionate and unnecessary the setting of restrictive maximum permitted levels for nutrients in such products as proposed by the Food Supplements Directive the further implementation of which would threaten the viability of 700 independent health food retailers and cost over 4,000 jobs in this country;
  • and urges Ministers to continue to do all that they can to resist this threat to specialist UK retailers and their customers."