HC Deb 20 May 1999 vol 331 cc1204-5
7. Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

If he will make a statement on Government policy towards the classification of nutritional dietary supplements as food. [83853]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)

Most products described as dietary supplements are considered in law to be foods. The Government have no plans to change this arrangement.

Mr. Chope

That answer is rather complacent. There is tremendous concern among health food manufacturers over the issue of definitions. There is no definition in law of a health food supplement. The manufacturers and consumers do not want the products to be banned as a result of the very wide definition that now applies to medicines. It is thought that the definition of medicines would include brandy, glucose and red wine, for example, as well as many other nutritional substances. Does the Minister accept that we need a clear definition of food supplements that ensures that they do not fall under the same regulatory regime as medicines?

Mr. Morley

The background to this is that the Medicines Control Agency is considering some of the foods that could possibly be classed as medicines rather than food supplements. There is a very clear definition of what is and is not a medicine. There have been some doubts about whether some of the foods currently on sale should be defined as medicines and regulated accordingly. That is why the MCA is acting, following an article 169 letter from the Commission asking the Government to review the question.

Some manufacturers and consumers have the impression that the MCA is seeking to reclassify supplements as medicines. That is not the case. It is considering the definitions and will take into account the representations that it has received as part of the consultation process.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire)

I hope that my hon. Friend will reflect on the views of two manufacturers in my constituency, Peter Black Healthcare and Surepharm, which are concerned about the potential impact of MCA regulation. I welcome the reassurance that the regulation will not apply to existing products, but of course many companies will be concerned about the possible application to products developed in the future. Can we at least hasten the work of the expert group that was commissioned to consider the matter? What progress has it made?

Mr. Morley

It is certainly true that the expert group, set up in 1997, is examining the issue. It is expected to report to the Food Advisory Committee towards the end of 2000. It is a major review, and there are many issues to consider. I repeat that it is not the intention unnecessarily to restrict the sale of vitamins and minerals or indeed to apply arbitrary limits without any scientific basis, but it is right and proper to regulate certain vitamins and supplements that may have a physiological effect and could come within the definition of medicines.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

May I stress the wide public concern about this matter? On Monday, I received a petition of nearly 1,000 signatures from a health food shop in my constituency, which shows that people do not want to be deprived of their supplements and feel that, if there is the remotest danger, they should be warned and allowed to take an adult decision. Some of the supplements and herbal remedies have been in use since Anglo-Saxon times.

Mr. Morley

Some people are concerned about the current MCA review, but the intention is not to reclassify supplements as medicines. There are some grey areas and we need to examine whether some products are in fact medicines. It is a consultative process, and the views of both consumers and manufacturers will be taken into account.