UK ministers not giving up over EU vitamin, mineral levels

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: United kingdom, European union, Uk

The setting of maximum vitamin and mineral levels across the EU is
still a hot topic in the UK House of Commons, with a new motion put
down this week calling on ministers to do all they can to protect
the natural health products industry and consumers.

The setting of the levels, which forms part of the 2002 supplements directive and forthcoming legislation on fortified foods, has been an emotive topic as member states have dramatically different ideas about the best way to proceed.

The UK and The Netherlands are traditionally two of the most lenient markets. High dose products account for 12 to 15 per cent of the £220m UK vitamin and mineral market, and the UK industry and would suffer a severe blow if the EU legislation were to proscribe the sale of high dose products.

The early day motion (EDM), put down by opposition shadow health minister, Stephen O'Brien MP had cross-part support. It was intended to "remind the Prime Minister of his own observation that this legislation is 'wholly out of proportion' and of his commitment to ensure that United Kingdom consumers do not lose their access to safe and popular higher potency food supplements".

EDMs are a mechanism for putting pressure on the government and an opportunity for members to show their support for issues. If there are enough signatories, they can be debated in the House of Commons.

The MPs behind the motion believe that these objectives will not be achieved unless the UK government redoubles its lobbying efforts in Brussels and with other member states.

UK passions were particularly piqued this summer with the publication of a discussion document by the EC which included several possible approaches to the setting of levels - but excluded the two tier model put forward by the UK last year, that would allow members states to keep higher doses on the market as long as they were labelled as such.

Neither did it include the significant body of work conducted by the UK's Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals (EVM).

A letter from EC Commissioner Markos Kyprianou to Austin Mitchell, MP, said that models included in the annex were intended only as examples of different approaches that can be used.

"The Commission will consider with utmost care all existing national rules and data in the exercise of establishing maximum amounts of vitamins and minerals in food supplements. In particular, the UK Expert group on Vitamins and Minerals (EVM) report [drawn up by the FSA in 2003] will constitute a valuable source of scientific information,"​ he wrote.

Moreover, he pointed out that the EVM report was used to inform the Danish budget and the ERNA-EHPM' models, both of which were included in the model.

This is not the first time that O'Brien has spoken out about level of UK pressure. In July he In a letter to Conservative commons yesterday, O'Brien urged support for two other EDMs on the subject - one of which was cross-party and the other "a stronger attack on the Prime Minister and the FSA for failing to lobby effectively on behalf of consumers in the UK".

The new motion called on ministers to "leave no stone unturned in their efforts to defend the interests of the United Kingdom specialist natural health product industry and its consumers"​.

"With the Minister for Public Health, Caroline Flint MP, due to speak at the Parliamentary Reception of Consumers for Health Choice on 28th November, the timing of the Motion could not be better,"​ said Chris Whitehouse, managing director of industry lobby group, The Whitehouse Consultancy.

What is more, it coincides with a conference taking place in Brussels today, at which the first review of responses to the EC discussion document will be presented and the next steps in the process outlined.

The UK's response to the document, in which it stood by the EVM findings and stressed the need for consumer choice, was informed partly by two meetings held by the Food Standards Agency.

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