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Bid to Lift EU Ban on Vitamins Fails

A challenge to the European ban on hundreds of natural health supplements failed yesterday. In a surprise decision the European Court of Justice upheld a controversial directive imposing tight controls on sales of minerals, nutrients and some vitamins.

by Sean Poulter The judges went against the advice of the Court's own Advocate General who had concluded the Food Supplements Directive was legally invalid and said it should be annulled. The directive, which comes into force next month, threatens the sale of 300 nutrients, which are used in various combinations in around 5,000 health products.

It will impose a maximum dose level per tablet on a range of vitamins, including vitamin C, although no decision has been made on what this will be….

Actress Jenny Seagrove [who has campaigned against the directive] said: "This is a complete betrayal. This is just lunacy. People depend on these things. If they are taken away, you are talking about individuals suffering a real deterioration in their health, well-being and quality of life. The ridiculous thing is that this directive has nothing to do with safety, that is a complete smoke-screen. This is about a bureaucratic attempt to harmonise regulations across the EU."

And Guess Who's Going to Benefit?

by Geoffrey Lean

Nothing epitomizes more clearly the increasingly arrogant nature of the European Union than its authoritarian ban on mineral and vitamin pills. In less than three weeks - by dictate of a European Commission directive - thousands of popular, harmless, natural medicines are due to be swept from the shelves.

The directive - upheld by the European Court of Justice yesterday - is possibly the most outrageous legislation yet to come out of Brussels. Touted as a way of protecting people's health, it seems designed only to benefit big drug firms.

With the ban will come a topsy- turvy world where adult Britons will be unable to buy their long tried and tested supplements from health food stores, while tobacconists will go on selling cigarettes to teenagers.

The ruling follows a vast campaign against the ban. More than 300 doctors wrote to the Prime Minister to oppose it, while a million Britons signed a petition against it. Some 20 million Britons take supplements every day. Most swear that they keep them healthier. And there is good evidence that they do.

Levels of minerals and vitamins in modern diets are dropping as intensive agriculture increasingly leeches them from the soil and people eat more processed food. Research shows that not eating enough of them raises the danger of cancer and heart disease. A recent study by the American Medical Association shows that some of the pills do offer protection against these.

But the drug companies prefer to draw attention to the supplements' alleged hazards.

Though some evidence suggest some alternative medicines may have harmful effect if taken in ridiculously high doses, research suggests certain side-effects of the drug companies' products are the fourth biggest cause of death in the US.

Yet, by attacking the alternatives, the ban seems designed to benefit the drug companies. And the way in which it is enforced only heightens the suspicion.

The directive inhibits the sale of vitamins and minerals unless they are on an 'approved list'. Those banned, says the Alliance for Natural Health, are mainly the more sophisticated ones used by alternative medical practitioners. Those allowed are, by and large, crude versions used by the big pharmaceutical companies in their own vitamin and mineral products.

Compounds like caustic soda, used to clean drains, and sodium fluoride, a pest killer, are on the permitted list while sulphur, important for the skin, and boron, valuable for healthy teeth and bones, are to be banned.

Very late in the day, Government seems to have woken up to the absurdity of all this. Cabinet Minister Peter Hain has called the ban 'unnecessary interference', and even Tony Blair objected to it in talks with other EU leaders last month. But, in truth, the Government has done much to bring it about.

It voted for the ban and it systematically removed Labour MPs sceptical about the directive from the Parliamentary committee scrutinizing it. Worse still, it joined Greece and Portugal in fighting the bid to overturn the directive.

Tony Blair therefore has a lot to do to redeem himself, but he may have an opportunity. The Alliance for Natural Health believes yesterday's judgment has left an escape route that still could be used to negate the worst effects of the directive.

The court appears to have exempted any vitamins and minerals that are normally found in the diet - a provision which could allow naturally occurring ones to escape the ban. The Commission denies this, but the Government should urgently examine and exploit whatever latitude it provides.

Otherwise we can expect increasing hostility to Europe in Britain. For people unmoved by arguments about sovereignty and the euro will surely never forgive Brussels for needlessly removing harmless supplements they have long taken to safeguard their health, just to swell the profits of pharmaceutical giants.
Daily Mail, 13th July 2005

Brussels Gives a Healthy Boost to Pharma Giants

by Christopher Booker

There was extensive media coverage last week of the European Court of Justice's ruling in favour of the Brussels directive on vitamin and mineral supplements. The choice of the 21 million people in Britain who use them will be drastically restricted when thousands of products are forced off the shelves, because it will cost between £80,000 and £250,000 for testing to allow each preparation to continue to be sold.

I have often written about this since 1994, when the directive first came into view, because it provides such a revealing case-study in how we are now governed. There is no scientific reason for the new law. Its greatest beneficiaries will be the pharmaceutical companies who have lobbied for it in Brussels, because it will drive thousands of their smaller competitors out of business. They have freely used bogus science to whip up a scare that misuse of food supplements can cause adverse reactions (albeit in only a tiny minority of users), while hiding away the fact that tens of thousands of people each year suffer much more serious, even fatal health damage from their own proprietary drugs, all licensed, at vast expense, as being safe to use.

The Brussels directive completely changes the basis on which food safety is regulated in Britain, by reversal of the burden of proof, as under Napoleonic law. In this country you may sell any food, but you face severe penalties if it proves to be damaging to health. Under the Continental system, the burden of proof lies with the seller. You may only sell what you are explicitly permitted to sell. Only the 112 products on the directive's so-called "positive list" will therefore be legal.

Finally, the ECJ last week broke with its established practice and overruled the opinion of its own Advocate-General, who had supported those complaining that the directive breached European law. This was because the ECJ is less a judicial than a political body. Its judges are political appointees and many would not be qualified to sit as judges in their own country. Their primary role is to support the Commission. And if the Commission bows to the lobbying of the pharmaceutical industry and produces a directive which will shut down smaller competitors and deprive millions of Europeans of the right to take the vitamin and mineral products they find beneficial, then the ECJ knows where its duty lies.