Leading article: An unhealthy intervention

Share

The efforts of health food campaigners and practitioners of alternative medicine to strike down a new European directive on their sector appear to have failed. The European Court of Justice ruled yesterday that the new EU directive on food supplements and vitamins is reasonable. This could mark the end of the long struggle of campaigners to fend off the advancing hand of European regulation.

The case for tighter regulation is superficially convincing. It will ensure clear labelling on products in health food shops, which will benefit consumers. And retailers have been offered an assurance that if any product is banned, there will be ample opportunity to appeal against the decision.

There are also health and safety benefits. A study a few years ago by UK doctors found that pregnant women who take extra zinc, for example, could be impairing the early development of their child. And the British Dietetic Association has argued that some patients have been admitted to hospital suffering liver failure and severe stomach problems after taking high doses of vitamins. It would therefore seem to make sense that any food supplements marketed within the EU should be checked for safety before they go on sale. This is the rationale behind the "safe list" of health foods that the directive will establish next month.

Some might also feel it is a good thing in itself that the health food and alternative medicine sector is being brought under greater regulatory control. There is a perception, particularly in medical circles, that health food retailers prey on the gullible and superstitious since their products have no proven health properties whatsoever. In other words, they feel the entire industry is a huge con trick and that it deserves to be harassed.

But strangling an industry through regulation is unfair. The fact is that people have a right to spend their money however they want - even on "natural" remedies, vitamin supplements and mineral plant extracts. The concerns about safety are legitimate. National governments are right to ban harmful concoctions through an EU-wide directive. But it should not be incumbent on every provincial health food retailer to apply for permission whenever they wish to market a new, perfectly harmless, product. The cost of complying will run many small firms out of business. This approach is too heavy handed.

The boom in alternative medicines and food supplements is one of the most bizarre trends of our times, and it is certainly not one that we would seek to endorse from a medical point of view. But equally, we cannot endorse the punitive regulation of a sector that - in the vast majority of cases - does no harm to anyone.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk