Mandelson can protect UK high-dose supplements: CHC

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European commission

An influential food supplements lobby group says UK government Business Minister, Peter Mandelson, could yet save the under-threat British high-dose food supplements industry.

Consumers for Health (CHC) director Sue Croft said the former European Commissioner – recently recalled to the government cabinet by prime minister, Gordon Brown, had the knowledge and the influence, “to make Europe see sense over high-dose supplements”.

“It is critical Peter Mandelson understands the utter devastation the UK high-dose industry faces, as well as in other countries if limits are set low as it appears the European Commission wants to do,”​ Croft told “We are going to be targeting Mandelson as he is one person who could make a difference.”

It is feared high-dose supplements containing vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, zinc​ and nickel and more may be under threat.

Parliamentary motions

Croft said Westminster House of Commons motions like the one that occurred on Wednesday kept the issue in the minds of UK parliamentarians, not to mention their European counterparts as well as committee members and bureaucrats.

The debate over maximum permitted levels of nutrients in food supplements across the 27-member EU bloc is heating up as deadlines for establishing limits approach.

An initial deadline of July, 2007, has already passed and the European Commission has said maximum permitted levels (MPLs) will be set by the end of March.

Croft said 700 health food retailers, more than half of those currently operating, could go out of business if nutrient levels were set too low, not to mention the vast restriction of consumer choice for products deemed safe by the UK Food Safety Agency (FSA).

Alarm bells

Alarm bells have been ringing for high-dose advocates since a meeting last November between major UK health product retailer, Holland & Barrett, and EC officials. At that meeting Robert Madelin, the director general of DG Sanco Health & Consumer Protection at the EC said high-dose supplements were a necessary sacrifice to allow pan-bloc levels to be set in law and compared high-dose products to the tobacco industry.

The Wednesday motion was forwarded by six MPs including one, Mark Todd, who previously opposed the 2002 Food Supplements Directive (FSD) under which nutrient levels are being established in the EU.

In part it stated: “That House notes with concern reports that at a recent meeting officials of the European Commission's Directorate-General Health and Consumer Affairs compared the United Kingdom's natural health product sector unfavourably to the tobacco and alcohol industries and added that the prohibition of higher potency vitamin and mineral supplements, currently accepted as safe by the Food Standards Agency, was an acceptable price to pay for the harmonisation of the market for supplements throughout the European Union…”

The motion went on to call on, “Ministers at the Department of Health, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to redouble their efforts to make the European Commission see sense on this matter, in the interests both of the independent health food retailers and consumer choice.”

Croft suggested whether levels were ultimately set high or low, there were going to be many dissenting member states – and that a pan-European position on MPLs may not be achievable. “It may be that national rules are the only way to do with this,” ​she observed.

If MPLs are set low, Croft suggested the knock-on effect would be widespread and it could become a central issue for the Brown government in the run up to the upcoming election, due next year.

MPL divergence

Across Europe levels for minerals and vitamins differ radically from country to country. A study by the Association of the European Self-Medication Industry (AESGP) found Belgium, for example, had maximum levels which varied between 1.5 and three times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) with a minimum level of 1.5 per cent RDA.

By comparison Denmark varied on the maximum level from 1.8 to 1300 times RDA, and a higher minimum level of 30 to 33 per cent of RDA. Some countries had no minimum level, including Estonia, which had a maximum level inline with RDA.

CHC and other groups such as the UK Health Food Manufacturers' Association (HFMA) favour risk management principles, under which high-dose supplements are permitted accompanied by warnings if there are special population sub-groups who should not consume them such as, in some cases, children and pregnant women.

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