Crackdown on vitamins challenged

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The Independent Online

Campaigners fighting tighter regulation of vitamins on sale in Britain won approval yesterday to take their battle to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Campaigners fighting tighter regulation of vitamins on sale in Britain won approval yesterday to take their battle to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

A High Court judge, Mr Justice Richards, sitting in London, ruled that companies opposing the Government's implementation of an EU directive had an "arguable" case and should be allowed to challenge it at a higher level as soon as possible.

Under the Food Supplements Directive, due to come into force in August next year, the EU would specify which substances could be labelled vitamins or food supplements. Maximum doses would be put on vitamins and labelling would be made clearer. Some 300 over-the-counter pills would have to be tested by EU scientists to make sure they met new safety tests.

The European Commission insisted that the rules, which would harmonise the law on vitamins and health supplements across the EU, would protect consumers. "The directive will not ban any product," Paoli Pestori, the Commission's director of food safety, told BBC Radio. "The aim is to ensure that vitamin and mineral pills which are marketed as food supplements are safe and properly labelled." She said individual countries could approve other substances for inclusion on the list of vitamins and health supplements, if they had a safety record put forward before 2005.

Campaigners said the rules would result in many of the currently available forms of essential minerals, including forms of calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium, being removed from sale. They feared there could be drastic restrictions on the potency of vitamins and minerals, thereby removing a further swath of products that have been used safely in Britain for many years. The Alliance for Natural Health warned that obtaining a safety record could cost companies up to £250,000 per product. David Hinde, its spokesman, said: "Under the law here, you do not need to have a safety record for food supplements. It's a fundamental change in the law that is being proposed here."

In court yesterday, Rhodri Thompson QC, representing the health food industry, said the crackdown threatened "health, freedom of choice and legitimate commercial interests".

Mr Thompson, who was appearing for the National Association of Health Stores and Health Food Manufacturers' Association, said it was "most extraordinary" that the Government, which wants to implement the directive, was opposing a reference to the European Court.

Outside court, the actress Jenny Seagrove, a campaigner, said: "I am here because I believe that [all] of us should have the right to choose what supplements we take, and have been taking very happily and healthily for many years."

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said the legislation was a genuine attempt to ensure vitamins and health supplements were safe. The Consumers' Association said it was a "scandal" that food supplements were not controlled more strictly.