- A controversial EU directive that could ban thousands
of popular vitamin and mineral supplements has been declared illegal by
a European Advocate.
- The judgment is a victory for health food manufacturers
and retailers who appealed to the European Court of Justice to overturn
the proposed law.
- The new rules governing vitamins and minerals are due
to come into effect on 1 August and are designed to improve the safety
and efficacy of products sold by the industry, worth millions of pounds.
Only named ingredients with proven scientific benefits have been included
on an EU "positive" list of approved substances that would be
allowed in health supplements.
- More than 300 different vitamins and minerals are not
on the positive list, meaning that 5,000 supplements will be banned if
the proposals become law, according to campaigners, who have been led by
Carole Caplin, Cherie Blair's former lifestyle adviser. Popular supplements
that will be outlawed include certain vitamin C brands, some calcium capsules
and copper tablets.
- The legal case against the directive was brought by the
Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), a Europe-wide association of more than
300 manufacturers, retailers, consumers and doctors opposed to the legislation.
- The advocate general at the European Court of Justice
(ECJ) gave an advisory opinion that the directive, as it stands, infringes
basic EU principles.
- He said that the current proposals lacked clear rules
for the European Commission to follow when deciding whether or not to include
an ingredient on the positive list. The advocate general's opinion that
the directive is "invalid" is not binding, and the full ECJ will
rule on the case in July, but the court normally follows his opinion.
- More than 20 million people in the UK spend £335m
a year on vitamins and supplements in the belief that they bolster health
and well-being. One in three women and one in four men takes supplements,
and campaigners said the legislation would lead to inferior ingredients
being used because more beneficial ones had been left off the positive
- David Hinde, legal director at the ANH, said: "This
is a very significant opinion in a landmark case. What we want to see in
the EU is the food supplements directive doing the job for which it was
created, which is to provide a 'safe harbour' for food supplements so that
they are not classified as drugs, and to promote their availability across
the EU. We are optimistic the ECJ will adopt the recommendations of the
- Under the directive, manufacturers could apply for products
to be added to the "positive" list by submitting scientific evidence
about the benefits of the supplements. But the high cost of producing such
dossiers - up to £250,000 - would have meant that smaller manufacturers
and health stores were most at risk from the new rules.
- Sara Novakovic, the owner of Oliver's Wholefood Store
in Richmond, south-west London, welcomed yesterday's ruling. She said:
"At last it is now highly likely that we can continue to offer the
products that our customers ask for and want, rather than have to remove
them all from the shelves for no good reason and supply them with inferior
- However, the industry faces a continuing fight against
EU legislation over health supplements and vitamins. The advocate general
upheld the concept of EU legislation on health supplements, saying that
the proposals needed to be reworked rather than scrapped.
- Further directives on the maximum doses of vitamins and
rules governing herbal remedies are due to be brought in over the next
- SUPPLEMENTS REPRIEVED?
- A mineral found naturally in nuts, raisins and leafy
green vegetables, and included in supplements such as Boots A-Z multivitamins.
It is needed for the absorption of calcium, and deficiency is linked to
osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
- VITAMIN E
- An antioxidant that can protect against free radicals
associated with degenerative disease. Naturally occurring versions of the
compounds that make up vitamin E would be banned.
- SELENIUM YEAST
- Antioxidant that can help boost immune response and improve
heart function, and is linked to sperm function. Certain types are on the
positive list, but yeast form is said to be the most easily absorbed.
- Vital for the production of haemoglobin, the pigment
in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body. Organic forms
of iron that are easily absorbed by the body would be banned.
- A mineral that balances blood sugar levels and is widely
used by diabetics to help control their condition. Chromium picolinate
supplement, which is not on the "positive list", is seen by health
professionals as a safe and effective nutritional supplement for people
with insulin resistance and those at risk of diabetes.
- "Bio" forms of calcium that are the most easily
absorbed by the body would be banned. Calcium works with vitamin D and
is needed to build bones and teeth, and can help regulate heartbeat.
- A diet low in potassium can be a factor in high blood
pressure, and supplements can help with fluid balance, heart rhythm and
nerve impulses. More than 20 forms would be outlawed.
- All forms would be banned, yet it can help maintain flexible
joints, supple skin and strong nails and hair. Silica levels in the body
deplete with age, and many elderly people take supplements.
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