HC Deb 04 April 2001 vol 366 cc235-6W
Mr. Nicholas Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what steps his Department has taken to ensure continued free access to food supplements; and if he will make a statement; [156693]

(2) what his policy is on the proposed EU food supplement directive; and if he will make a statement; [156690]

(3) what assessment he has made of differing regulatory structures present in the European food supplements market; and what assessment he has made of the level of restriction imposed in EU member states; [156692]

(4) what action his Department has taken to re-evaluate the current regulatory structure relating to food supplements; and what steps his Department has taken to ensure the proper communication to the consumer of the health benefits of food products; [156695]

(5) what recent representations he has received relating to the proposed EU food supplement directive and its impact on the free access to food supplements; [156688]

(6) what steps he has taken to maintain safety as the basis for free access to food supplements, regulated under food law; [156694]

(7) if he will make a statement on his Department's approach to the harmonisation of the food supplement market; and on what basis of definition harmonisation is to be achieved. [156691]

Ms Stuart

We accept there is a need for European Union rules on food supplements to tackle trade problems. This is because member states have a range of regulatory systems, with differing requirements. Generally these are more restrictive than the United Kingdom's safety based approach. We are pressing for a safety based approach to regulation of these products at EU level, in the interests of maintaining consumer choice.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is representing the Government in negotiations for harmonised EU legislation on food supplements, has consulted interested parties on the effects of the Commission's proposal. Representations have been received from consumer organisations, individuals, nutrition therapists and professional public health groups, food supplement manufacturers and their trade associations, retailers and enforcement bodies. All these groups support our view that the market should be open to products which are safe and properly labelled. A number of consultees have pointed out that the proposed legislation could significantly restrict the range of vitamin and mineral substances which could be used in food supplements, and the availability of high dose supplements. We are pressing for amendments to the draft directive to take into account the wide range of safe products available in the UK.

Clear, accurate labelling is essential to help consumers make informed choices. The FSA is pressing for a number of improvements to EU food labelling rules. These include mandatory[...] easy to use nutrition labelling and an effective and practical system for the verification and approval of health claims at EU level. The agency is also calling for the arrangements for health claims to allow the use of disease risk reduction claims where they are valid and presented in an appropriate context.