EC registers vitamin upper limit concerns

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

The Irish Association of Health Stores (IAHS) has come away from a European Parliament Petitions Committee meeting confident its concerns about appropriate maximum permitted levels (MPLs) for food supplements are being listened to at European Union level.

The meeting was attended by four Irish MEPs, one UK MEP as well as EU delegates, with the Petitions Committee chairman insisting a 60,000-strong, IAHS-backed petition submitted to the European Parliament in December, 2007, be kept open.

Representing the IAHS at the meeting, Alliance of Natural Health (ANH) executive director, Robert Verkerk, emphasised the need for appropriate science to be employed if high-dose supplements commonly consumed in markets such as Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden are not to be stripped from shelves.

Speaking to this morning, Verkerk said the scientific discussion that has raged for many years about which scientific criteria to apply to the setting of MPLs, should “begin in earnest”​ once the preliminary figures have been released.

“But if these figures are not ready to be released, there should be a delay in the process and maybe the European Parliament will play a part in this,”​ he said. “The potential damage to small and medium businesses, in particular, is vast if inappropriate figures are published.”

He added low MPLs would create a vast black market for high-dose products.The European Commission is slated to announce preliminary MPLs within two months.

Commission position

However Basil Mathioudakis, head of the European Commission food law, nutrition and labelling unit, gave no indication at the meeting there would be any change in its position, which favours a conservative, consumers-first approach that for many will result in unacceptably low MPLs.

Mathioudakis mentioned there were political as well as scientific pressures pulling for lower supplement doses in countries like Ireland, the UK, Holland and Sweden, which presently allow higher doses than most of the EU. But he did not state such pressures were likely to have any effect on the Commission’s approach to MPLs.

Irish MEPs speak up

Irish MEP Kathy Sinnott, vice-chair of the Petitions Committee and host of the petition, said both business and consumers were concerned many previously safe supplements were under serious threat.

This Directive is unreasonable and controlling,” ​she said in reference to the 2002 Food Supplements Directive (FSD) under which the setting of MPLs falls. “It has become a great worry to people all over Ireland who shop in local health food stores and who use vitamins and minerals to improve and maintain their health​.”

Fellow Irish MEP Marian Harkin, added: “Good science is the primary requirement here. The models used by the Commission need proper validation​. How can you set limits for nutrients that don’t take into account the variations in food quality between different geographic regions in Europe or between seasons, where it may be hard to get fresh, nutritious produce during the winter months?”

Jill Bell, chair of the IAHS, who was also present at the meeting of the Petitions Committee, said her group was delighted with the support from MEPs and welcomed “any delay in the setting of MPLs”.

Some of the matters raised at the meeting have been referred to the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) for further consideration.

In addition, the European Commission has been asked to provide a written response to the Petitions Committee on the challenges raised in the meeting.

The meeting was also attended by a representative of the UK Health Food Manufacturers' Association (HFMA).

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