- The British health food industry claimed a major victory
yesterday after controversial laws to tighten up the sale of vitamin pills
and health supplements were declared invalid.
- The interim advice, issued by a senior judge at the European
Court of Justice in Luxembourg, found that the legislation failed to protect
the rights of individuals and firms seeking to have products declared safe
- It was also scathing about the way the rules were drawn
up, calling them "as transparent as a black box".
- If the legal opinion is accepted by the full court, then
much of the EU's Food Supplements Directive due to come into force in August
may have to be rewritten.
- The declaration followed a legal challenge from British
campaigners who argued that the new rules would lead to thousands of common
food supplements being banned.
- "It is a very substantial victory and it's a crowbar
in the door," said Dr Robert Verkerk, a spokesman for the Alliance
for Natural Health.
- The Food Supplements Directive was designed to standardise
vitamin, mineral and food supplements, which are taken by about 43 per
cent of Britons.
- Under the new rules, only ingredients on an approved
list could be used in supplements. There would also be restrictions on
the upper limits of vitamin doses.
- The industry was given until July 12 to submit detailed
scientific dossiers proving that their ingredients were safe.
- Supporters of the legislation said it would protect consumers
who bought food supplements without any guarantees about quality or safety.
- Critics, who included Carole Caplin, the former health
and beauty adviser to Cherie Blair, said the rules were unnecessary and
would lead to 5,000 products being banned.
- The British Health Food Manufacturers Association, the
National Association of Health Stores and Alliance for Natural Health,
which launched the challenge, said the costs of complying were too high
for small companies.
- In his advice to the European Court of Justice, Leendert
Geelhoed, the advocate general, backed the principle of an approved list.
- But he said the wording of the directive was "seriously
deficient" and infringed basic legal and administrative principles.
- It lacked clearly-defined rules and norms for the European
Commission to follow when deciding which products to add to the list.
- It was also unclear whether manufacturers would be able
to submit products for evaluation, he said.
- "The directive does not comply with essential requirements
of legal protection, of legal certainty and of sound administration, which
are basic principles of Community law," he said.
- "Thus it is lacking appropriate and transparent
procedures for its application, and the directive infringes the principle
of proportionality. It is therefore invalid."
- The full court is expected to reach a verdict in a few
months time. However, in most cases, judges follow the advice of the advocate
- Andrew Lockley, from the solicitors Irwin Mitchell, the
legal adviser to the HFMA and NAHS, said: "It is encouraging that
the advocate general has supported our view that the directive does not
provide a fair mechanism for the regulation of food supplements."
- Peter Aldis, the managing director of the health food
chain Holland & Barrett, said: "The opinion is a scathing indictment
of this shoddy piece of legislation.
- "The court's conclusions show the European Commission
and those who agreed this flawed regulation in an extremely bad light.
- "The Prime Minister must now intervene to ensure
that all the ingredients that would otherwise come off the UK market in
July are protected by the immediate submission of the necessary dossiers
to Europe by the Food Standards Agency."
- Chris Grayling, the shadow health minister, said: "This
is not the final ruling, but I am confident that we are in a position where
we're close to winning the battle to scrap this controversial measure."
- © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.