Could Brexit give a boost to the UK’s supplements industry?

By Eliot Beer

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers for Health Choice (CHC) will be lobbying for a post-Brexit repeal of elements of EU legislation that 'restrict consumer choice in the UK'. ©iStock/Kwangmoozaa
Consumers for Health Choice (CHC) will be lobbying for a post-Brexit repeal of elements of EU legislation that 'restrict consumer choice in the UK'. ©iStock/Kwangmoozaa

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Amid the uncertainty of Brexit, supplement industry groups see opportunities for a more liberal UK regime outside the EU, but others question how much practical difference the UK’s split will make.

Advocacy group Consumers for Health Choice (CHC), which has called for looser regulation of the food supplements market in the EU, recently issued a discussion note on Brexit, announcing its intention to make sure supplements were high on the agenda in Brexit negotiations.

CHC said the UK’s approach may by default be more favourable.

It is highly unlikely that the UK will […] look to implement Article 5 of the Food Supplements Directive 2002/46/EC​, and so restrict availability of safe, higher potency vitamin and mineral supplements: it has been the UK that has largely blocked this happening in the EU for many years.​”

But the group noted Article 5 is already part of UK law, and in the short term is likely to remain so, as the UK will probably keep its existing laws and import currently applicable EU law into UK statutes to lessen the burden on the civil service and reduce uncertainty.

Stripping out EU laws

A longer term objective for CHC will be to lobby for the repeal of elements of EU legislation that restrict consumer choice in the UK. This can include Article 5 of the FSD, as well as other pieces of legislation that consumers in the UK have long objected to, such as the Nutrition and Health Regulation EC 1924/2006​,” said CHC in its note.

Alliance for Natural Health-International (ANH-I) executive and scientific director Dr Rob Verkerk shares this approach. His group has identified a ‘Distorted Dozen’ of EU laws​ which the UK could conceivably improve on outside the EU.

Among these are EU laws on traditional herbal medicinal products, GMO regulation, consumer labelling and novel foods.

Regarding novel foods regulation, Dr Verkerk said it has become a “protectionist tool​” reducing access to natural products such as fungal and algal products.

Brexit EU UK referendum iStock kaptnali

He called on the UK to “encourage diversification of food supply by facilitating trade in natural foods and ingredients regarded by the EU as ‘novel’ simply because ‘significant use’ within the EU either has not occurred or has not been sufficiently documented.​”

But while the UK may have some opportunities for liberalisation outside the EU, the real-world impact of this may be limited, according to Owen Warnock, a London-based partner at legal firm Eversheds.

He noted that there are many areas, such as food labelling, where a repeal seems unlikely. 

It seems to me that we will see change in relation to the laws governing food supplements only where there is a convincing case that the current rules are deficient, for example because they ban claims that are scientifically justifiable or they support products for which there is no scientific case​,” said Warnock.

UK-specific products not worth it?

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Even to the extent that manufacturers do obtain more freedom in law, they may not take it if a significant part of their sales are within the EU since they will still need to comply with EU laws for such products and it may not be worthwhile manufacturing and marketing a UK-specific variant​,” he added.

Warnock suggested more promising opportunities may exist, such as removing the “unconvincing​” distinction between reducing the risk of disease and preventing disease, or gaining UK approval for a supplement product even when the EU has denied it.

He also said the UK’s regime may look very different – and more industry-friendly.

Our government's preference for self-regulation and for not spending money on quangos might even lead to such matters being left to a body funded wholly or partly by industry​.” 

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