UK Liberal Democrat parliamentarian, Dr John Pugh, quipped to NutraIngredients that the letter he and other UK MPs wrote to the UK press today in defence of high-dose food supplements, was not about, “protecting strange Bulgarian recipes of doubtful providence in an open market”.
More seriously he added: “There needs to be some sort of control but the level of control and the type of control exercised by the EU in this case seems to be pointless and damaging to the interests of consumer choice and health food store owners in the UK.”
Dr Pugh along with Labour MP Kate Hoey and Conservative MP Marcus Jones today wrote a letter to UK paper The Telegraph, urging health secretary Jeremy Hunt to back high-dose food supplements like vitamins and minerals in upcoming meetings with new EU health commissioner, Tonio Borg.
The setting of uniform maximum permitted levels (MPLs) for nutrients used in food supplements is written into the 2002 EU Food Supplements Directive (FSD) but was de-prioritised under former health commissioner, John Dalli. That allowed high-dose supplements to remain on-market in the UK’s uniquely liberal setting.
Any change, the MPs wrote, would be, “contentious here in Britain where millions of people have consumed safe higher-potency vitamin and mineral supplements for many decades, with no evidence of any significant harm.”
“Were maximum permitted levels for such nutrients to be set as restrictively as is being sought, not only would consumer choice be restricted, but the viability of hundreds of independent health-food retailers would be threatened.”
It is estimated 700 health food stores and about 4000 jobs would be lost if the EU imposes lower MPLs across the bloc. 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.
The larger supplement firms that trade across the EU, as represented by groups like the Council for Responsible Nutrition UK, back harmonisation as it will bring cost savings in labelling, marketing and formulation.
“The science on which it’s based is junk”
“This issue is truly non-partisan,” said Dr Robert Verkerk, the executive and scientific director of the Alliance for Natural Health International (ANH-I).
“Here we have a Labour MP coming together with Liberal Democrats, just at a time when David Cameron is making noises about renegotiating the UK’s position in the EU. The maximum permitted levels of vitamins and minerals issue is a political and economic issue, masquerading as a public health issue.”
“The science on which it’s based is junk, as we have shown in two peer-reviewed paper. We hope that Ms Hoey and others will be able to make clear to commissioner Borg that the EU should stop meddling with people’s civil liberties particularly over how they choose to manage their health.”
“The altar of harmonisation”
The three MPs are supporters of Consumers for Health Choice (CHC) Save Our Supplements campaign – backed by the likes of Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John – and have long lobbied for UK market freedom around supplement dosage and other issues like health claims.
CHC director of strategy, Chris Whitehouse, told us the UK needed to voice its opinion and protect a unique market against low-dose advocates like Germany and France.
“Firms in Germany in particular are opposed to higher potency supplements as a matter of policy,” Whitehouse said.
“They are prepared to surrender higher potency supplements at the altar of harmonisation. Commissioner Dalli understood the contentious and sensitive nature of this issue in the UK and so despite pressure from industry quarters to set levels low, he let it be known it was not a priority for his administration.
“We now have a new commissioner we hope will be able to give British government ministers a reassurance that during his administration consumer choice will also be maintained.”
Graham Keen, the executive director of the the UK Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA), which represents smaller supplement manufacturers, backed the MPs.
“We have been saying for some time now that the imposition of maximum levels significantly lower than current UK practice will be a disaster for the UK’s specialist supplements industry, and supplements consumers alike.”
He said mooted changes would, "expose UK consumers to the dangers of unregulated or less-regulated supply, and have a devastating impact on the sector.”
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