Vitamin supplements should not be on EU's agenda
by Chris Whitehouse
European proposals for restrictive upper limits on vitamins and minerals in food supplements could lead to the closure of 700 specialist shops and the loss of over 4,000 jobs in Britain, says lobbyist
As the new European Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg, arrives in London for a meeting on January 17 with the British Health Secretary - a cross-party group of MPs have fired a warning salvo that the provisions of the European Union Food Supplements Directive remain as contentious as ever in the United Kingdom. Kate Hoey MP, Dr John Pugh MP and Marcus Jones wrote a hard-hitting letter to the country's largest-circulation broadsheet newspaper The Daily Telegraph warning that proposals for restrictive upper limits on vitamins and minerals in food supplements could lead to the closure of 700 specialist shops; and the loss of over 4,000 jobs in Britain.
The last thing the nation's high streets need right now is a further raft of store closures. The provision for the setting of such maximum levels is contained in the directive, which was passed as long ago as 2002, but the specific provision for the levels is in Article 5 of the legislation have not yet been implemented. The reason being a hard-hitting campaign in the UK and other member states by the consumer advocacy group, Consumers for Health Choice. The CHC is now planning to tap into social media and the internet to promote the message of consumer choice to millions of EU citizens. And to persuade Borg that, like his predecessors, he would be well advised to leave this issue in the long grass.
The letter was published the day before a private meeting between commissioner and health secretary. The perfect timing demonstrates that consumer choice will not be sacrificed on the altar of harmonisation. The group has been congratulated previously in a motion before the House of Commons "saluting" the way in which it has made the humble vitamin pill a matter of national political significance.
But as with all food products, supplements in the EU must be safe and appropriately labelled. So one can only wonder, therefore, why the commission would want to invest the time and effort in picking up this issue once again - and banging its head robustly against the solid brick wall of consumer freedom. Something that will be defended to the hilt. The answer is concerted lobbying by large companies and their trade associations, which have everything to gain by removing all barriers to trade and are not so concerned about the potency at which their products are marketed.
The issue is once again fuelling the flames in the UK. The concern, as with so many issues, is one where the union does itself no favours when it seems to fail to respond to the aspirations of ordinary citizens. Why takes unto itself the regulation of a sector, which frankly could remain a competence of individual member states?
Chris Whitehouse is managing director of the Whitehouse Consultancy, a public affairs firm based in Brussels and London