In what must be considered to be a significant step towards greater harmonisation in Europe, the European Parliament voted on Wednesday for new safety controls on vitamin supplements.
The new law will require manufacturers of vitamins and minerals to carry out scientific tests proving that their products are safe and to provide more information for consumers on the label regarding maximum safe doses, highlighting possible risks and side-effects and reminding users that supplements are no substitute for a healthy diet.
The Food Supplement Directive was passed with just one amendment. In what is seen as a concession to smaller vitamin and mineral companies, the period of time to submit a safety dossier has been extended from 12 months to 36 months. This should go some way to appeasing critiques of the directive that maintain it is just for the benefit of the major players.
Despite much criticism and lobbying, this new legislation must be seen as a victory for the consumer and for transparency. This new Directive goes hand in hand with a refreshed desire in Europe to tackle food security. We are living through changing and evolving times where laws, at a European level, must reflect the need to improve food security across Member States. Is it totally rational that while the food manufacturer has to wade through a sea of legislation to put a product on the shelf, the vitamin supplier merely has to stick on any old label? This current disparity looks set to disappear with the emergence of the new Food Supplement Directive.
In the words of David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection: "The aim of this legislation is to put consumer safety and informed consumer choice first. The aim of the Directive is not to ban food supplements as some lobbies have misled consumers to believe. Labels must give them clear information about how to use and how not to use them.
These principles of food safety…apply here as they do to all other food products."
In addition to the increased security for the consumer, the new legislation brings a much needed harmonisation of national laws to the marketplace. For years cries of change have been heard from companies wishing to trade between Member States. A fleet of different laws from one country to the next has made the effective marketing and selling of products far from efficient and a positive juggling act. With the advent of the new directive, which must still be passed by ministers, the food supplement industry looks set to enter a dynamic period of change. Those, undoubtedly a small minority, fearing clarity and transparency cannot compete.