A draft document was prepared following the July 25 meeting, and the need to preserve consumer choice was a common theme running through much of the debate surrounding the points raised by the European Commission in June.
In the context of whether maximum amounts should be set separately for food supplements and fortified foods, the importance of providing consumers with information and allowing an informed choice was seen as a "critical factor".
The same point was stressed over whether intake of different population groups should be taken into account in the setting of maximum levels, since some vitamins and minerals can have different effects of certain groups - such as vitamin A and the elderly, and folic acid for women planning to become pregnant.
The setting of maximum levels for vitamins and minerals forms part of two pieces of European legislation: the 2002 Food Supplements Directive; and the EU regulation on fortified foods that is currently making its way through the rule-making process.
An earlier draft response to the discussion document was circulated prior to the meeting, which Chris Whitehouse of lobby group The Whitehouse Consultancy said "had clearly been prepared by [FSA's] in-house toxicologist". Although he called the new version "imperfect", he said: "It does suggest that progress has been achieved in shaping what is potentially a response of great importance in influencing the future regulatory climate for supplements throughout Europe."
Consumers For Health Choice (CHC) said it was "very disappointed" by the original draft, which it said treated vitamins and minerals as toxins rather than as beneficial nutrients. In September 2005, the FSA set four principals that should form the basis of discussions over maximum levels: "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."CHC said that the original draft risked undermining these. Last September the board also put forward a proposal for a two-tier system that provided for warning labels on products exceeding the maximum levels, at the discretion of indivudual member states. A spokesperson for the agency told NutraIngredients.com earlier this month was formulated in the absence of a proposal from the European commission.
The FSA is only half-way through its stakeholder consultation process, and the final version of the agency's comments is pending the outcome of discussions at the September 4 meeting.
The agency spokesperson told NutraIngredients.com at the beginning of this month that: "The basis of the Agency's policy in relation to food supplements remains safety and consumer choice, and to seek a proportionate evidence-based approach to setting maximum levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements."
The FSA board has also agreed that there is a need for on-going monitoring in the market place to continue to inform the evidence base.
The spokesperson added that when the Commission publishes its proposals - due once the comments from the discussion document have been considered - the FSA Board will have an opportunity to consider and discuss them.
The UK has carried out considerable work in this area in the past. 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.
The EC discussion document elicited concerns that EVM report and the two-tier suggestion had been ignored by the architects of the EC discussion document, since the UK's position was omitted from the annex.
A letter from Commissioner Markos Kyprianou to Austin Mitchell, MP, made public today should go some way towards quelling these concerns however.
Kyprianou said that models included in the Annex were intended only as examples of different approaches that can be used.
"The Commission will consider with utmost care all existing national rules and data in the exercise of establishing maximum amounts of vitamins and minerals in food supplements. In particular, the UK Expert group on Vitamins and Minerals (EVM) report will constitute a valuable source of scientific information," he wrote.
Moreover, he pointed out that the EVM report was used to inform the Danish budget and the ERNA-EHPM' models, both of which were included in the model.