A question for the European Commission:
Are carrots and brazil nuts more dangerous than vitamin supplements?
The European Commission is currently in the process of finalising methods for the setting of maximum levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements. Although it claims that it will be taking a scientific approach to this procedure, the reality is that the maximum level for beta-carotene may be set at a level less than that contained in two carrots, whilst the maximum level for selenium may be set at a level less than that contained in a mere two brazil nuts. Pointing out these and other absurdities, an impressive position paper recently issued by the UK-based Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) calls for the Commission to review its methods, and proposes features that would be required for the development of a new, scientifically valid approach.
But will the Commission listen, or will it now start screaming for warning labels to be put on bags of carrots and brazil nuts?
The ANH paper is certainly reasonable and well-argued. Recognizing that the setting of maximum levels will be subject to the pressures of "industrial stakeholders" (i.e. the multi-trillion dollar pharmaceutical industry) and "political processes" (i.e. the European Union's long-standing support for the pharmaceutical "business with disease"), it concludes that the best way to develop a more appropriate solution would be to entrust the task to a university, where it could be developed within an independent, academic setting.
In our opinion, this is an excellent proposal. After all, to any reasonable observer, watching the European Commission develop its preferred approach to the regulation of food supplements has, in recent years, felt like participating in the "theatre of the absurd." Clearly, European citizens are not dying in the street through overdosing on food supplements and, in fact, there is good evidence that vitamin and mineral deficiencies are widespread in the European Union. As such, if the debate over the setting of maximum levels continues to be governed by the Commission's extremist and alarmist anti-supplement propaganda, far from protecting consumers, the resulting maximum levels will doubtless be to the very detriment of their health.
Whilst the Commission had previously claimed, in 2002, that its aim is not to ban food supplements, and that the interests of consumers are at the top of its concerns, its recent Orientation Paper revealed that decisions on the maximum levels in food supplements "will have to be based not only on scientific grounds but will have to take into account also current market practices." Worse still, the paper states that the identification of these practices apparently requires "discussion with industrial stakeholders".
In other words, therefore, the Commission's preferred process for setting the maximum levels will not stand up to scientific scrutiny and the pharmaceutical industry will almost certainly be involved in the discussion process.
Hardly surprising then, that the Commission's approach to the regulation of food supplements is increasingly now coming under attack. Whilst we accept that there are those, such as the ex-pharmaceutical industry director Gert Krabichler, who believe that the European Commission has progressed with great care and transparency in drawing up these regulations, we strongly suspect that, should extremism prevail, the maximum levels could ultimately become subject to legal challenge.
And we're not just talking about the levels for beta-carotene and selenium, either.
To take another example, the Commission's official position is that the maximum tolerable intake level for nicotinic acid (vitamin B3) is only 10 mg. Given however that even the European Union's meager recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin B3 is 18 mg, it's not difficult to imagine that any legal arguments used to defend this absurdity in court would have to be farcically convoluted.
In short, therefore, we agree completely with ANH that the Commission's proposed approach to the setting of maximum levels has no adequate scientific basis and that it needs to be drastically altered.
To read the Alliance for Natural Health's press release, click here.
To read the Alliance for Natural Health's position paper, click here.