Blair opposes EU's directive to outlaw up to 5,000 vitamins

Up to 5,000 vitamin and food supplements could be swept from the shelves of health-food shops under an EU directive due to come into force on 1 August.

Campaigners warn that despite a European ruling that the Food Supplements Directive is illegal, an amended version could be used to ban products used by a third of British women and a quarter of men.

Tony Blair, who raised the issue in talks with EU leaders this month, is known to oppose the directive on the grounds that consumers should be free to choose and the state should not interfere in products that do not cause harm. "He is driven on this by his anti-regulation instincts. But he is probably also influenced by Cherie," a source said.

Cherie Blair is reportedly a user of vitamins and supplements and her former personal assistant Carole Caplin campaigns on the issue.

Opponents of the directive say the Government is leaving it too late to influence the European Commission before a ruling by the European Court of Justice on 12 July.

Jenny Seagrove, the actress, said: "In the past fortnight we have heard new evidence about ibuprofen's link with heart attacks, yet here we have vitamins and supplements being swept off the shelves that never harmed anybody. Who is going to benefit when the supplements market shrinks? The pharmaceutical companies. "

Sue Croft, of Consumers for Health Choice, said: "We can't sit and wait for the EU Commission to make a decision. We need to persuade them now. The Government promised before the election that it did not want to see products lost that were legitimately on the market. There are 200 nutrients and nutrient sources that could be banned, affecting 5,000 products."

The EU directive is designed to tighten controls on the market for products sold as natural remedies, vitamin supplements and health foods. Instead of allowing a vitamin or mineral to be sold unless it has been proved harmful, the directive insists that only those proved safe can be sold. Permissible doses will also be capped.

The directive approves 140 substances for use in supplements – fewer than half of those in use. Substances can be added to the list only if a scientific dossier has been compiled and approved by the European Food Safety authority. That would cost from £80,000 to £250,000 per product.

In April the Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice, Leendert Geelhoed, declared the directive illegal. He found that the procedure for adding supplements to the approved list was confusing and said the directive had "the transparency of a black box". But he said the principle of an approved list conforms to EU law.

The directive was approved by EU governments in 2002 and manufacturers given until the end of July 2005 to prove their ingredients safe. More than 300 doctors and scientists wrote a letter of protest to Tony Blair, one million people signed a petition, and there were motions opposing the law from both the Commons and the Lords.

Supplements under threat

NATURE'S PLUS SOURCE OF LIFE

Contains banned amino acid chelates of magnesium, iron and calcium, zinc picolinate, and selenomethionine.

Vitamin doses too high.

VIRIDIAN TRACE MINERAL COMPLEX

Banned boron, vanadium, chromium picolinate, manganese chelate and selenomethionine.

VITABIOTICS MENOPACE

Contains boron, chromium picolinate, and selenomethionine, plus other nutrients.

VIRIDIAN HIGH-FIVE B-COMPLEX

B-vitamins in too-high doses plus magnesium ascorbate.

HOLLAND & BARRETT VITAMIN C-1,000 mg WITH BIOFLAVONOIDS

Dose unacceptable to EU.

HOLLAND & BARRETT SELENIUM

Contains banned selenium yeast.

HOLLAND & BARRETT ABC PLUS

Vanadium, nickel, tin and boron.

SOLGAR POTASSIUM AMINO ACID COMPLEX

Banned forms of potassium.

SOLGAR CHELATED MOLYBDENUM

No molybdenum allowed.

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