In an independent piece of research, Rayman claims that selenium-enriched yeast (Se-yeast) is "bioavailable" and "safe" and has many health benefits, including cancer prevention, and says there is no justification for disallowing the sale of Se-yeast in Europe.
"The problem in EU countries is not selenium toxicity but marginal or deficient selenium status that has worsened in recent years as a result of a fall in imports of North American wheat following their accession to the EU," says Dr Rayman.
Research published in 2002 revealed that selenium levels in British bread-making wheats are 10 to 50 times lower than in their American or Canadian counterparts, owing to reduced levels of the mineral in UK soil and lower pollution. Daily intake of the mineral is therefore often lower than the recommended amount in Britain and other places in Europe.
A lack of selenium has been found to impact the immune system and recent research has linked the trace element selenium to a reduced risk of prostate and skin cancer.
In her report published today in the British Journal of Nutrition, Rayman cites research showing that daily selenium intake in Canada is 98-224 mg, 200-350 mg in Venezuela, 106mg in the USA and a measly 29-39mg in the UK.
The availability of Se-yeast within the EU has came under threat from new legislation after concerns were expressed by the EC Scientific Committee on Food that Se-yeast supplements were poorly characterised and could potentially cause a build up of selenium in tissues to toxic levels. Rayman denied there was any evidence for such suppositions.
"Of about one dozen supplementation studies none has shown evidence of toxicity even up to an intake level of 800 micrograms per day selenium over a period of years," she said. "Se-yeast from reputable manufacturers is adequately characterised, of reproducible quality and there is no evidence of toxicity even at levels far above the EC tolerable upper intake level of 300 micrograms per day."
Rayman concluded that "adequate dietary intakes of selenium are therefore essential" for good health.
However, the EU food supplements directive (2002/46/EC) that is due to come into action in August 2005 will almost certainly restrict the sale of many higher dose nutrients, including essential minerals like selenium and zinc, and antioxidant vitamins C, B6 and E, which are currently available in the UK and other more liberal countries like Ireland and Sweden though still not permitted in many other European nations.
Earlier this year, the UK's supplement industry won the right to challenge the European Commission in the European court of justice over the directive, which it claims is unlawful, and hope the case will be heard before it becomes law.