Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

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February 25, 2008

Will Europe Restrict Herbs, Vegetable Extracts?

The European Union does not believe in its citizens' ability to choose nutrients wisely. This very paternalistic view finds expression in a series of restrictive laws that aim at regulating what can be sold as a healthy food to supplement our daily menu with vitamins, minerals, herbs or vegetable concentrates.

The European Food Supplements Directive, which was approved in 2002, provides a "framework" for regulating the nutrients we may add to our meals. The details on coming restrictions for vitamins and minerals that the directive envisions have been delayed for years. Neither the lists of "nutrient sources" nor the dosages to be allowed in pills and capsules have been agreed, six years after the directive was first issued.


Yet the Commission is already busy on its next step. According to the Alliance for Natural Health, herbs and vegetable extracts are now in line for restrictive assessment. The alliance which represents consumers, doctors, shopkeepers and some producers is concerned that

large numbers of plant-derived products or botanicals, which pose no risk to human health, and have numerous benefits, will be forced through an onerous risk assessment procedure. The proposed procedure is likely to be cost-prohibitive for smaller companies that have been the main pioneers and innovators within the natural health industry.

Dr Robert Verkerk, executive director of the Alliance for Natural Health says that since our western diet more and more lacks the needed variety and we are not eating enough of the recommended vegetables and fruits, at least we should be able to supplement what we eat with more concentrated foods of high nutritional value. According to Verkerk,

"botanical supplementation is an important tool for the enhancement of people’s diets. It makes no sense to limit freedom of choice for those who choose to take responsibility for their health.”

Some widely used natural essences such as eucalyptus, tea tree, thyme and citronella can no longer be used in natural insect repellents and personal deodorants, as a result of another European directive that regulates what are called "biocidal products". So the fear that many of the herbs and vegetable extracts we find today in food supplements are in jeopardy of being removed by heavy handed intervention is not just idle speculation.

If the Industry does not work to achieve a fairer regulatory regime, which accepts those botanical products that have been safely used for a long time, says Verkerk, a fate similar to these natural essences could befall many of the vegetable extracts that are used in food supplements today.

I might add that industry can do little without the backing of consumers. People who rely on these supplements to better the nutrient density of their foods better wake up as well and make their views known. The politicians seem so far removed from the reality of life today that they could make any law, as long as it helps Big Pharma, which they see as an important industry, and doesn't concern their own families directly. So wives, friends and children, clue in your politician husbands, friends and fathers ... (hint, hint)!

- - -

Onerous EU laws for botanicals threaten consumer choice

The aim of the EU Food Supplements Directive (FSD), being a framework directive, is to harmonise the food/food supplements industry across the European bloc, one small bite at a time. They're doing it gradually over a protracted period, under the guise of consumer safety, in the hopes that it'll all happen so slowly we won't notice the slow but steady decimation of the natural health industry that many of us are reliant on for our health. The gameplan is to see natural health being swallowed up by the big food and pharma corporations. Compare any large natural health industry trade show today with one from 5 or 10 years back and you'll see that the process is already well underway. Consumers, more than any other group, have the power to reverse this trend.

Vitamins and minerals were first off the starting blocks and, in Europe, we've witnessed the imposition of the draconian, restrictive 'positive list', the ANH legal challenge in the European Court of Justice (ruled on in 2005) which helped in particular to save natural sources of vitamins and minerals, the once extensive 'derogation list' (which is rapidly being whittled down) and now the ham-fisted and quasi-scientific way in which Maximum Permitted Levels (MPLs) are being handled.

We continue to challenge the proposed European approach to MPLs, which is set to otherwise become the blueprint for what will be done globally through the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The risk assessment approach being used was initially heralded as one that would be much fairer and less restrictive than a 'multiples-of-RDA' approach favoured by many European countries like Germany, France and Denmark. But we can now see the levels, using these new methods, are no better than the RDA approach – and in some cases may be even worse (more restrictive)! The authorities would have us believe that consumers are in danger of exceeding their maximum safe dose if they consume the beta-carotene present in just one and a half carrots or the selenium in more than two brazil nuts. These are just two examples amongst a number of other travesties to essential nutrients. Watch that shopping trolley, loading up at the fruit and veg section could put you at risk of vitamin and mineral overdose! We don't think so…

However, next up for harmonisation in Europe are the all-important group of phytonutrients or 'botanicals'. This category encompasses a large section comprising non-vitamin and mineral, plant-derived nutrients. Many companies selling herbal products are reliant on the FSD to bring their products to your shelves and now these products are potentially at risk. The high cost, exclusion of polyherbal and combination products, and the medicinal regime offered by the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive has meant that this is not an amenable route for smaller companies or companies selling poly-herbal products. It is therefore imperative to keep the FSD open as the legal framework for the huge variety of botanical products that increasing numbers of consumers are choosing to take to supplement their diets, as a means of boosting antioxidants, resolving certain ailments and optimising their health.

In December 2007 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a draft guidance document on how botanicals and botanical preparations in food supplements should be classified and invited comment from stakeholders across the EU through an electronic consultation that closed on 15th February 2008 (ANH news 6/12/07). The guidance document hinges on safety and risk assessment and categorises some 860 herbs between two lists. Between both lists you'll find everything from alfalfa to artichokes, clove to castor oil and pineapple to patchouli – nestled among herbs that are known to have safety issues if consumed over prolonged periods, especially at high dosages (e.g. Aristolochia).

The original of the ANH (Alliance for Natural Health) communication and more information about the planned restrictive assessment of healthy vegetable and herb based ingredients in food supplements can be found on the ANH's website:

Onerous EU laws for botanicals threaten consumer choice


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Monday February 25 2008
updated on Friday June 26 2009

URL of this article:


Related Articles

Food Supplements in Europe - What is the Problem?
The European Union has issued a Directive to regulate the commerce of food supplements, which is in the process of being implemented in the member states. If reading the referenced text does not tell you what problems this directive might bring to your ability to either buy or sell supplements in one of the European Community member states, don't feel alone. That is a problem most observers have and I... [read more]
April 21, 2004 - Sepp Hasslberger

Food Supplements: German Risk Institute Takes Dim View
The German Federal Institute for Risk Evaluation, formerly the Federal Office for Consumer Health Protection, has established a risk assessment model for deducing maximum safe levels of nutrients provided in supplements and fortified foods, according to a recent report of The report was published in two parts, one dealing with minerals, the other with vitamins, both available in PDF format - so far only in German language (Minerals here)... [read more]
January 20, 2005 - Sepp Hasslberger

Denmark To Eliminate Concept Of Supplements: 'They're All Medicines'
August 2004 - Danish Health Authorities have issued a proposed national "Guidance on Supplements" for public discussion which, according to MayDay, an association campaigning for freedom of choice in health matters, "is worse than any legislation we have ever seen before, as it will erase the concept of supplements, this actually means that Denmark is about to be the most totalitarian state experiment in Europe concerning health." The Danes refer to... [read more]
September 07, 2004 - Sepp Hasslberger

Proposed European 'Nutrient Safety Levels' Not Fit For Purpose
The Alliance for Natural Health, a group campaigning for sustainable health care in Europe, states in a newly released paper, that the European Commission's proposed model for limiting the amounts of nutrients allowed to be sold in food supplements is seriously flawed. Dr Robert Verkerk, the scientific director of the Alliance says: “The Commission claims that its methods are scientific but we have found that they do not stand... [read more]
October 24, 2007 - Sepp Hasslberger

European Food Regulation and 'Intended Normal Use'
What is a food and what is a medicine, is a question that has no easy answer. The grey line of demarcation between the two might seem unimportant to some, but if distinctions are arbitrarily set, they can destroy markets and prevent people from effectively taking care of their own health by adjusting the intake of certain nutrients in their diet. With diet and nutrition closely linked to the prevention... [read more]
May 04, 2007 - Sepp Hasslberger

EU Food Supplements Directive: Scientists Challenge Philosophy of Precaution
Two Dutch scientists, Aalt Bast of the University of Maastricht and Jaap Hanekamp of the HAN Foundation are challenging the philosophy of caution and control of the European directive that regulates food supplements, healthy products containing vitamins, minerals and other bio-ingredients useful to human health. Food Supplements and European Regulation within a Precautionary Context: A Critique and Implications for Nutritional, Toxicological and Regulatory Consistency In their article published in Critical... [read more]
April 04, 2007 - Sepp Hasslberger




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