Swinging voters key to European supplements debate

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Member states, European union

As the European Union debate over maximum and minimum nutrient
levels in supplements and functional foods moves closer to a mooted
January 2009 denouement, a key lobbyist says "it is all to play

Chris Whitehouse of UK and Belgian-based The Whitehouse Consultancy, which works with companies and trade associations across Europe, told NutraIngredients.com meetings were ongoing between high-dose advocates such as the UK and the Netherlands and member states that had not indicated a clear position on the issue that has polarised the EU. "We have at least 12 months to ensure that consumers in Europe are able to get access to safe supplements at efficacious dosage levels,"​ Whitehouse told NutraIngredients.com. "The current situation is that working groups have been convened in all 27 member states and they have come together twice - once at the end of 2007 and once earlier this year - to discuss how they will go about setting maximum permitted levels." ​ Those discussions had revealed the chasm in opinion about how best to achieve a harmonised set of maximum levels across the EU. Such differences included whether or not all nutrients required maximum levels as for some there is no evidence of a credible health risk. There is more agreement over minimum levels with 15 per cent of Recommended Dietary Intakes (RDIs) for any particular nutrient gaining widespread support, including the European Health Product Manufacturers Association (EHPM). Swinging voters ​Whitehouse said many in industry were "depressed and dispirited" by the failure of the UK government and the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) to effectively argue the case for high-dosage supplements within the EU bloc. "But there are a large number of member states that have not taken or expressed a view on high-dose supplements so there is still everything to play for in terms of winning hearts and minds across Europe on this issue,"​ he said. "How these undecided member states vote will win the day. The dialogue with these member states must be stepped up now." For and against ​The settling of maximum levels in supplements and functional foods hinges around the weight given to nutrients derived from other food sources. Conservative member states such as Germany and France argue more weight should be given to regular dietary sources for a host of nutrients including popular vitamins and minerals and therefore maximum levels for these nutrients should be restricted in supplements and functional foods. The liberal position as advocated by the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland and Sweden, insists that even when nutrients from all dietary sources are considered, there is still a strong case for lifted dosage levels that have scientific backing. "What is most disappointing is the lack of progress that the FSA, the UK government and certain trade organisations have made in this area,"​ Whitehouse said. "There is a failure on the part of some of these groups to fully understand the complex implications of a number of the decisions that they are seeking to influence.""While the UK government policy and objectives are what we hoped they would be, the reality on the ground is that they are failing to win hearts and minds." ​ Individual companies such as UK-based health food store, Holland & Barrett, were continuing with their own lobbying efforts and were in dialogue in with European legislators, trade bodies and lobbyists, H&B's head of nutrition and regulatory affairs, Melanie Hickey told NutraIngredients.com.

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