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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 14:23 GMT
EU vitamin rule change attacked
An estimated 10m Britons take vitamin supplements
Plans by the European Commission to introduce tighter rules on vitamins and food supplements were attacked in London's High Court on Friday.

Lawyers representing groups opposed to the move said it was a threat to health and to freedom of choice.

The Alliance for Natural Health and others are trying to stop the EU Food Supplements Directive coming in.

They are asking the High Court to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice for consideration.

Only the European Court can rule that the directive cannot be introduced.

The directive, to be enforced on 1 August 2005, is designed to harmonise the rules on vitamins and food supplements across the European Union.

The aim is to ensure that vitamin and mineral pills which are marketed as food supplements are safe
Paoli Pestori,
European Commission
It includes a list of vitamins and minerals that can be used in food supplements. It also includes upper limits on certain vitamins.

Groups opposed to the move say it will lead to many supplements disappearing off the shelves in Britain.

'Considerable concern'

Rhodri Thompson QC, who is representing industry and other parties seeking to stop the directive, said the issue should be referred to Europe's top court.

"This case concerns a piece of EC legislation that has raised considerable political concern in the European Parliament, House of Commons and House of Lords," he said.

"It raises difficult, complex issues of fact and law - at least one novel - with important implications for public health."

Conor Quigley QC representing the Alliance said the directive did not have "a proper legal basis".

He said there would be a "severe impact" on the sale of many "small niche" products.

Earlier, Paoli Pestori, director of food safety at the European Commission, told the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme, the directive would protect the public.

"The directive will not ban any product. The aim is to ensure that vitamin and mineral pills which are marketed as food supplements are safe and properly labelled."

She said there would be a list of approved products which can be sold, and in addition, individual countries could approve others - if they had a safety record put forward before 2005.

But David Hinde of the Alliance for Natural Health warned the introduction of the directive could mean thousands of products were no longer be available.

He said obtaining a safety record could cost up to 250,000 per product.

"Under the law here, you do not need to have a safety record for food supplements.

"It's a fundamental change in the law that is being proposed here."

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