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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 15:53 GMT
Vitamin crackdown gets go-ahead
Consumers may lose the right to buy "high-dose" vitamins
Stricter rules which it is feared could stop the public buying certain types of vitamins have been approved by the EU.

The European Parliament approved the more stringent controls, but they must still have to be accepted by individual governments.

Under the rules, manufacturers of food supplements containing vitamins and minerals will have to provide full ingredient details within three years.

They will also have to carry information relating to the nutrient content of the product, and how much people should take each day, plus a statement that supplements are not a substitute for a balanced diet.

Labels must give them clear information about how to use and how not to use [food supplements]

David Byrne, EU Health Commissioner
Around 300 over-the-counter pills will have to be tested by EU scientists to make sure they meet new safety and health standards, following the ruling.

Manufacturers have criticised the EU. They claim the ruling will restrict the public's access to vitamins and threaten the livelihood of health food shop owners.

They also warn that the more stringent testing will cost them around 400,000 euros (just under 248.000) per product.

David Byrne, EU Health Commissioner, said the aim of the legislation was not to ban food supplements but to provide a wide range of safe products.

"Some people find they need food supplements to compensate for their inadequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals. Labels must give them clear information about how to use and how not to use them," he told the AP press agency.

Popular pills

Increasing numbers of people are taking large quantities of vitamins and minerals, often much more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA).

In the UK, this has been 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.

But the EU's action has been criticised as too heavy-handed.

This is a sledgehammer to crack a nut

Chris Davies, Liberal Democrat MEP
Before the decision was announced, 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."

But the pharmaceutical has backed legislation, suggesting it could "liberate" the industry.

Trevor Jones, from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, 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 encompasses 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.

A spokesman for the Consumers' Association said: "It's a scandal that food supplements are not properly regulated.

"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."

See also:

11 Mar 02 | Health
Clampdown on 'high-dose' vitamins
02 Jan 02 | Health
Vitamin A link to hip fractures
23 Dec 01 | Health
Vitamin E could halt Alzheimer's
19 Sep 01 | Health
Antioxidants fight smog damage
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