US, China biggest culprits as report finds 25% of EU supplements contaminated

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food supplements directive European union Food and drug administration Dietary supplement

Increased enforcement action called for to combat contamination
Increased enforcement action called for to combat contamination
New research has highlighted rising rates of supplement contamination in the European Union – typically by steroids – with the US and China the main sources.

The report published in Food And Chemical Toxicology ​found enforcement actions were lacking in the EU and called for greater scrutiny of the sector, to stem a problem they measured at 25 per cent of EU supplements.

“Regulating supplements as a foodstuff and not a medicine, coupled with the fact that a significant proportion of the supplement market is distributed via the Internet (hence absent from routine border control and surveillance), make ensuring and enforcing safety a very challenging task,”​ the report concluded.

“The need for better quality control, compliance and public awareness is evident.”

Despite that damning assessment, the report found that enforcement activity had “dramatically increased”​ in the wake of the 2002 Food Supplements Directive, but not to a sufficient degree to counter the growing problem.

“Enforcement that ensures clarity of labelling,appropriate quality control and appropriate guidance for theunsuspecting consumer however they purchase the product, presents an enormous challenge,” ​the report concluded.

Rogue players

Responding to the report, the UK Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) said the contamination issues were almost exclusively due to “rogue supplement suppliers”.

“The illegal supplements highlighted in this paper actually form a very small percentage of the European/UK supplement market,” ​CRN said.

“All regulated consumer product industries are plagued by some common supply chain failures. Even heavily regulated industries such as the pharmaceutical industry producing drugs or medicines, and as such requiring pre-market approval, do not completely insulate against intentional adulteration or counterfeit products. In fact, globally, the counterfeit drug industry is estimated to be $200 billion annually - more lucrative than narcotics.”

It added: “The focus in this paper, being solely on food/dietary supplements, is narrow-minded, ignoring the bigger picture and the fact that this is a much larger problem.”

CRN highlighted its own technical guide to reducing and managing chemical and microbiological contaminants in supplements and their ingredients, as well as similar materials from the European Federation of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM) and the International Alliance of Dietary Supplement Associations (IADSA) as proof of the industry’s activity in the area.

“There is a considerable amount of legislation in place to regulate food supplements within Europe, with which the responsible supplement manufacturers are in compliance,”​ CRN continued.

“However, all the trade associations are in agreement that there are varying degrees of control by enforcement agencies in the individual member states and would actually welcome a more consistent enforcement of those supplying totally non-compliant products and who are thereby seriously damaging the reputation of the supplement industry.”

The report noted Italy and Finland detected the most contaminated products, especially in sexual-enhancing or weight-loss supplements.

Source: Food And Chemical Toxicology

(2010), doi:10.1016/j.fct.2010.11.014

‘Mission impossible? Regulatory and enforcement issues to ensure safety of dietary supplements’

Petroczi, A., et al.

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