Last month the European Commission published a discussion document on the setting of upper levels for vitamins and minerals, which is envisaged as part of two pieces of European legislation: the 2002 Food Supplements Directive; and the EU regulation on fortified foods.
In an open board meeting held last September, the Food Standards Agency advised health ministers to negotiate with European officials for a two-tier system that would allow the UK to keep its high-dose vitamin supplements on the market subject to advisory statements about high doses on product labels.
But while the annexes to this document contained propositions from several quarters, including a very restrictive model from Germany, the FSA's opinion was notably absent.
According to shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien, MP, the omission suggests that "the FSA and ministers who took up this fight have completely failed to get their message across in Europe".
In a letter to Conservative commons yesterday, O'Brien urged support for two early day motions (EDMs) on the subject. 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.
One of the EDMs is a cross-party EDM, whereas the other is "a stronger attack on the Prime Minister and the FSA for failing to lobby effectively on behalf of consumers in the UK". According to O'Brien, public health minister Caroline Flint said recently that she last spoke to the EU commissioner responsible for the implementation of the food supplements directive about its potential impact on products available in the UK on 12 July 2005.
The UK, together with The Netherlands, is currently one of the most liberal markets for high dose vitamins and minerals.
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.