The FSA has announced two meetings, on July 25 and September 4, for stakeholders to discuss the various questions posed in the discussion document. The comments made at the meetings will be used to inform the agency's position, which in turn will feed into the British government's response to the European Commission.
The setting of maximum levels for vitamins and minerals has been on the table for several years, forming part of two pieces of European legislation: the 2002 Food Supplements Directive; and the EU regulation on fortified foods.
The EC published its discussion document raising certain questions about the levels on June 6, and presenting in its annexes several proposals for how the levels may be set.
But the UK's proposal for a two-tier system that would allow the UK to keep its high-dose vitamin supplements on the market subject to advisory statements about high doses on product labels was notably absent from the annexes.
This omission that has led to criticism of the government for failing to get its message across in Europe; just last week, shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien proposed two early day motions in the House of Commons to give members of parliament the opportunity to put their message across.
Indeed, the UK has carried out considerable work in this area. In 2003 it commissioned a review by the independent expert advisory committee the Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals (EMV), which led to the establishment of its own evidence-based levels.
Since many supplements in the UK market were found to exceed these levels, it agreed the two-tier system with industry, whereby manufacturers would add advisory labels to products containing high vitamin and mineral doses.
Although the advisory labels are currently voluntary, compliance is seen to be crucial to demonstrating the viability of this approach at European level.
The EC has set a deadline of September 30 for comments relating to it discussion document. Given the relatively short time frame, the FSA has decided not to solicit written comments from stakeholders.
Rather, nutrition and toxicology experts will draft initial views, which will form the basis of discussion at the meetings.
The FSA Board agreed overriding principals with stakeholders in June, that: "Consumers should have the right to make an informed choice unless their safety is compromised; an evidence base is necessary to ensure consumer safety is safeguarded; there is a need for ongoing monitoring of supplements in the marketplace to continue to support the evidence base; the evidence base needs to take into account the risk assessment by scientific experts."
The UK, together with The Netherlands, is currently one of the most liberal markets for high dose vitamins and minerals.
High dose products account for 12 to 15 per cent of the £220m UK vitamin and mineral market, and the UK industry and would suffer a severe blow if the EU legislation were to proscribe the sale of high dose products.
Numbers at the meetings are limited, but industry members, health organisations and NGOs, consumer groups, scientific committee members and government officials can request a place by email@example.com" target="_blank">email.