The European Commission is to ask Austria to lift its ban on the sale of food supplements sold at a distance. The Commission will send "a reasoned opinion" to Austria to lift the ban which is laid down in the Austrian law on the regulation of trade and industry (GewO).
In a statement the Commission said the ban was a barrier to intra-Community trade, and therefore breached the rules of the EC Treaty (Articles 28 to 30) which prohibit unjustified obstacles to the free movement of goods.
Austrian law defines food supplements as substances intended to be consumed without serving principally as food or relaxation and without being medicinal products.
Austria's authorities claim that the law is necessary to protect consumers from so-called "miracle products", which are often sold at a distance in association with advertisements exaggerating their effects.
However the Commission opposes the policy because it claims a total ban on the distance selling of food supplements which are freely sold in other Member States is a disproportionate obstacle to the free movement of goods. It also stated that there is currently no sufficient justification for the ban under Article 30 of the EC Treaty on grounds of health or consumer protection.
The ban will mean that importers of such food supplements must satisfy additional formalities in order to gain access to the Austrian market and the free movement of goods within the European Union.
The Commission will also ask Austria to end the use of late bans on the placing on the market of food supplements, claiming that these also breach EC rules on the free movement of goods.
According to Austrian law on foodstuffs (LMG), authorities must ban goods declared as food supplements within three months from the date on which the importer declares a product, if it does not comply with Austrian regulations. However the Austrian authorities reserve the right to issue such bans even after this period has elapsed.
The Commission states that the procedure must be completed within a reasonable period.