The European Commission is holding a consultation intended to allow industry and consumer input before setting dosage limits for vitamins and minerals in supplements and foods sold in the EU. The answers received are showing up deep divisions among member states and also among groups with an interest in nutrition and supplementation.
The European Directive on Food Supplements mandates dosage levels to be considered and limits to be set where needed. At the time of its passage, the directive drew protest and criticism from consumers. Some of the arguments can be seen on La Leva's site here. During a legal challenge to the directive's legitimacy, the Advocate General of the European court of justice called the directive's procedures "as transparent as a black box", but the court, in its subsequent decision, gave the go-ahead for the new rules..
The directive, while mandating controls on supplement formulation, did not address the specifics - it left the details to be decided later. So the same spiny questions that characterized the original discussions but were never resolved at the time are now coming back to haunt the legislator.
The European Commission has provided a discussion paper inviting comments from member states and interested groups, asking a number of specific questions. The answers, now posted on the Commission's website, show widely diverging opinions.
Some EU member nations such as Germany, France and the Nordic countries argue that precaution must be exercised and that the availability of nutrients should be sharply curtailed. The UK and the Netherlands in contrast are more open to allowing their citizens to decide how they wish to increase the nutrient content of their daily chow.
Industry and nutritionists are also divided, although a majority would gladly do without undue restrictions. La Leva has argued that supplements should be left alone, but BEUC, the European consumer federation sponsored by the EU Commission follows the official German line of "can't be careful enough - there might be some dangers lurking in those nutrients somewhere"!
The real question seems to be: should consumers be able to choose vitamin supplements freely or should this choice be restricted in the name of public health. One particular submission addresses this basic question in an admirable manner, pointing out the biased nature of the whole process. The comments filed by the Irish Association of Health Stores put the arguments in the right context.
Their submission is well worth reading for anyone who wants to get a good grasp of the central issue and the way the European Union is (mis)handling it.