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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 10:53 GMT
Clampdown on 'high-dose' vitamins
"High-dose" vitamin tablets may not be available without prescription under EU proposals to regulate the industry.
Taking large quantities - often many times in excess of the "recommended daily allowance" (RDA), is becoming increasingly popular.
In the UK, this is made easy by suppliers being allowed to produce tablets which contain these high concentrations of vitamins or minerals.
There are concerns that taking huge quantities of some vitamins could even be harmful to health.
However, from 2004, in line with the rest of Europe, many types of vitamin pills may be able to contain, at most, the RDA.
Anything above this will in future could be classed as a drug - and be available only on prescription.
The European Parliament is set to debate the measure on Tuesday.
It would also mean significant changes in the labelling of vitamins and minerals.
It has been claimed that the pharmaceutical industry is keen to take a tighter grip on the lucrative vitamin market.
Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies said: "These are not dangerous pharmaceutical drugs - they are food supplements which people use to supplement deficiencies in their diets.
"If people want to exercise free will, they should be allowed to do so.
"This is a sledgehammer to crack a nut."
Vitamin manufacturers are to invited to submit evidence of the efficacy and safety of their high-dose products.
Trevor Jones, from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said that this request could actually be "liberating" for the industry.
He said: "This comes out of genuine desire to ensure that the products that people buy are safe and effective.
"We support the idea of the legislation being brought in to ensure that the products that will do them some good are understood and rational.
"This list that is being proposed encompases range of mineral substances that we need to know that the right levels are in the product."
At present, while high-dose vitamins and minerals are readily available in the UK, over-the-counter sales are already outlawed in most EU countries, leading to a "black market" in vitamins with the UK as its source.
The EU is also proposing to regulate the herbal medicine industry.
There have been scares in the UK over tainted medicines which have caused liver problems in a few patients.
A spokesman for the Consumers' Association said: "It's a scandal that food supplements are not properly regulated.
Although we can get all the nutrients we need from a regular diet, increasing numbers of consumers are using supplements.
"If passed, this directive could give consumers more reassurance that they're buying supplements which are safe, of high quality, and which have comprehensive information on their labels."
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