UK-based advocates, Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), led a seminar in Ireland at the weekend arguing that if the EU puts in place restrictive maximum permitted limits (MPLs) for nutrients in food supplements under the Food Supplements Directive, it will impose a one-size-fits-all system for 27 member states and will mean Irish consumers no longer have access to the wide range of products currently available in health food stores.
Retailers and consumers – who have been highly vocal in fighting to preserve Ireland’s high-dose market – attended the event.
Proposals for MPLs under Article 5 of the Directive are expected to be published by the Commission in the coming weeks.
And the ANH claims the one million users of nutritional supplements for healthcare in Ireland will be forced on to the internet where they will be buying completely unregulated products from outside the EU.
But chief specialist in public health nutrition with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), Dr Mary Flynn, told the Irish Times that to ensure public health and safety, regulation is needed in the area of high-dose supplements.
While she admits that food supplements have an important role, where required, she claims that people need to be careful about the amounts they take. “Taking super-doses of some vitamins and minerals upsets the natural balance between nutrients and this can disturb how the body manages these potent substances.”
Flynn said that opponents of the harmonisation legislation want six times the upper tolerable limit [UTL] in dosage, but she argues that using the recommended daily allowance [RDA] as a marker would be more beneficial and going beyond this, she continues, could be dangerous, particularly with groups at risk such as pregnant women and elderly people already on several different kinds of medication.
She notes that as 55 per cent of pregnancies in Ireland are unplanned, high dosage vitamin usage by pregnant women could result in the foetus being exposed to very high levels of nutrients, particularly vitamin A, in the early stages of pregnancy.
However, the ANH favours a case whereby high-dose supplements are permitted accompanied by warnings for special population sub-groups who should not consume them.
Harmonised dosage levels set by the EU will be higher than the current RDAs, reckons Flynn, and she said that the FSAI will continue to issue warnings on a national basis about the use of food supplements.
Irish MEP Kathy Sinnott has long criticised restricting the dose levels and she argues that consumers should have the right to protect their health with vitamins and minerals at the dose and form that they require, “especially when there is no evidence of lack of safety of currently used dosages.”
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.
Dr Robert Verkerk, executive and scientific director of ANH, stresses that adequate consultation on MPLs by member state governments, MEPs industry and consumers is now needed to make sure that the Commission appreciates that meaningful discussions should begin—rather than end—once it publishes its proposals for MPLs.