From 1 August 2005, a new legal regime governs the advertising and sale of ‘food supplement’ mineral and vitamin pills. Some products may simply disappear from shelves, whilst certain food supplement ad claims will be a criminal offence. We report at
Who: The European Court of Justice and the Food Standards Agency
When: July 2005
The European Court of Justice threw out a late challenge to the coming into force in the UK of the Food Supplements (England) Regulations 2003 ("Regulations"). This was certainly last minute, given that the regulations are due to come into force on 1 August 2005.
The Regulations restrict and control the sale of vitamin and mineral pills across Europe, laying down a "white list" of permitted food supplements and providing that no other such supplements may be legally sold to consumers.
The Regulations were challenged in the UK High Court and then to the European Court of Justice on the basis that they were disproportionate and unfairly prevented the sale of numbers of perfectly harmless vitamin and mineral pills.
The ECJ threw out the challenge and said that the Regulations were perfectly proportionate and appropriate to protect public safety.
Well known supplements on the white list include selenium-enriched yeast, tin, manganese, boron, and vitamin K-2.
The consumer watchdog Which? has campaigned for several years for controls to prevent the sale of very high doses of vitamins that could damage health. The Regulations will ensure, Which? said, that products were safe, that they contained forms of vitamins and minerals that offer some benefit and that they are clearly labelled. Under the Regulations, permitted food supplements must be sold as food and presented as such and they must also be pre-packed if they are sold to the ultimate consumer.
The pre-packaging must be marked or labelled with the following particulars:
- the name of the category of vitamin or mineral or other substance with a nutritional or physiological effect which characterises the product or an indication of the nature of that vitamin or mineral or other substance;
the portion of the product recommended for daily consumption;
- a warning not to exceed the stated recommended daily dose;
- a statement to the effect that food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied diet;
- a statement to the effect that the product should be stored out of the reach of young children; and
- the amount of any vitamin or mineral or other substance with a nutritional or physiological effect which is present in the product.
Plenty of food for thought for labellers there.
In addition, there can be no labelling, presentation or advertising of food supplement products which includes any mention, express or implied, that a balanced and varied diet cannot provide appropriate quantities of nutrients in general.
What is more, the obligatory fields of information just listed must appear on the label in a way that is "easy to understand, clearly legible and indelible and, when the food is sold to the ultimate consumer, these particulars must be marked in a conspicuous place in which a way as to be easily visible."
Why this matters:
The Food Standards Agency has announced that it knows of no supplements that will actually be banned by the coming into force of these Regulations. There is a derogation from the full force of the EU directive. The effect of this is that in relation to any substance which was used in the manufacture of a food supplement and which was on sale in the European community on 12 July 2002, sales of these supplements can continue, even if the supplement in question is not in the white list, until 1 January 2010, to allow time for suitable submissions to be made to the European Food Safety Authority to check that they are safe.