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Dietary Supplements: EU Law

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 25 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what the outcome was of (a) the meeting between the Food Standards Agency and the European Commission on 12 September 2007 to discuss the interpretation and implementation of Article 5 of the Food Supplements Directive and (b) the Working Group of the Council and Commission held on 24 September; (159992)

(2) if he will make a statement on his planned future actions in relation to the setting of maximum permitted levels for vitamins and minerals in food supplements;

(3) if he will make a statement on progress in achieving his objectives for the setting of maximum permitted levels for nutrients in food supplements;

(4) when he next plans to visit a specialist health food retailer to discuss the possible impact of the setting of maximum permitted levels for nutrients in food supplements;

(5) whether officials of (a) his Department and (b) the Food Standards Agency plan to liaise with their counterparts in (i) the Republic of Ireland and (ii) each other EU member state to discuss their position on the setting of maximum permitted levels of nutrients in food supplements;

(6) if he will place in the Library a copy of the letters recently sent to the governments of (a) Guernsey and (b) Jersey by (i) the Food Standards Agency and (ii) the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in relation to the trade in food supplements and herbal remedies;

(7) when he expects the European Commission and Working Groups of the Council to bring forward figures for the permitted levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements; who is participating in those working group discussions to represent the United Kingdom; what steps he is taking to influence other member state governments outside the working group meetings; when last he met the European Commissioner to discuss these matters; and if he will make a statement;

(8) what the conclusions were of the Food Standards Agency and Better Regulation Executive assessment of the regulatory impact on (a) specialist manufacturers, (b) specialist retailers and (c) other businesses of the setting of maximum permitted levels for vitamins and minerals in food supplements under the provisions of Article 5 of the Food Supplements Directive; and if he will offer compensation to small and medium sized enterprises which suffer adversely as a result of the implementation of this legislation;

(9) what steps (a) the Food Standards Agency and (b) the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency plan to take in relation to the trade in food supplements and herbal remedies from the Channel Islands.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for food supplements issues and for negotiations relating to the European Commission (EC) Food Supplements Directive. No recent meetings have been held between Health Ministers and the European Commissioner concerning setting maximum permitted levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements under this directive. Meetings will be held with stakeholders in early 2008 to discuss this issue.

The bilateral meeting between the FSA and the EC on 12 September was held principally to gain insight into the Commission’s intentions as regards the process by which maximum and minimum levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements would be set. The Commission indicated that an orientation paper on setting maximum and minimum levels which it had issued in late July would be the starting point for discussions at working group level, which began on 24 September.

The aim of the first working group meeting of 24 September was for the Commission to obtain member states’ initial views on the orientation paper. We have been advised by the FSA that general discussions on the orientation paper in the working group revealed that many member states are yet to establish views on many issues. The Commission has asked member states to consider some of the issues presented in the orientation paper in preparation for more detailed discussions at the next working group meeting which has provisionally been scheduled for November and will be attended by FSA officials. We have been informed by the FSA that the Commission intends to produce draft amending legislation with respect to permitted levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements by January 2009.

We have been advised by the FSA that their officials met with their counterparts from the Republic of Ireland and other member states during, and in the margins of, the working group meeting on 24 September. The next working group meeting will provide further opportunity for bilateral discussions. The FSA currently has no additional meetings arranged to meet their counterparts in other member states outside working group meetings.

The Government consider that the approach to regulation of food supplements should be safety-based and that consumers should have the right to make an informed choice unless their safety is compromised. Good progress has been made in promoting work carried out in the United Kingdom in establishing upper levels for vitamins and minerals and reference has been made to this in the Commission’s orientation paper.

We have been advised that the FSA is continuing its work on determining the potential economic impact of setting maximum levels to support future negotiations. In the absence of proposals from the Commission, a range of possible options is being considered. Until proposals are received and this work completed, the impact on small and medium sized enterprises of setting levels is unknown. We cannot, therefore, comment on the matter of compensation.

There are no plans for Health Ministers to visit a specialist health food retailer to discuss the possible impact of setting of maximum levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements.

The FSA wrote to the Governments of Jersey and Guernsey on 10 September concerning the trade in food supplements between these respective Crown Dependencies and the UK and suggested a collective meeting with representatives of these governments. Copies of the letter sent by the FSA to the Bailiwick of Jersey have been placed in the Library. The release of the letter sent by the FSA to the Bailiwick of Guernsey is currently under consideration by the FSA under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which precludes copies being placed in the Library at this time.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) believes that herbal remedies from the Channel Islands are subject to the Traditional Herbal Medicines Directive 2004/24/EC. The MHRA has already begun discussions about this with the Government of Guernsey and wrote to the Government of Jersey to open discussions on 28 June 2007. Copies of the MHRA’s recent letters to the Bailiwick of Guernsey and letter to the Bailiwick of Jersey have been placed in the Library.