BEUC: ‘EU food supplements market is only partially regulated’

BEUC highlights 'flaws in EU and national legislations'. FSE says category is 'extensively' regulated. ©iStock/PushishDonghongsa

Europeans rely ‘more and more’ on food supplements but are being let down by a ‘patchy regulatory network’ governing a market awash with dodgy products and claims, the EU’s premier consumer rights group has found in a sector report.

The European consumer organisation BEUC called for better regulations and policing of those regulations across the EU’s 28 member states for products as varied as food supplements, foods for sports persons, traditional herbal medicines or medical devices.”

It said the market would suffer varying safety standards and product classification strategies” that would create “confusion and unacceptable inequalities” unless:

  • adulteration with medicines and unauthorised substances was addressed.
  • maximum and minimum limits for vitamins and minerals were established.
  • products bore better safety and usage information.
  • an effective reporting system for adverse events was established.
  • claims only permitted if backed by robust science – including botanicals.

“Consumers’ safety can be at risk due to flaws in the EU and national legislations,” BEUC wrote. “They are exposed to potentially serious side effects, misleading information and to the risk of wasting money for products that do not live up to the promises they make.”

BEUC named several examples where safety had been an issue including colloidal silver and silver hydrosol, synephrine, vitamin B3 (nicotinic acid) and DNP and made the point that “natural does not mean safe!” [BEUC emphasis]

“For botanicals in particular, necessary warnings against possible contraindications, interactions and undesirable effects on label – or in information leaflet – are required under the herbal medicine status [the EU Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive] but not when the product is considered a botanical food supplement.”

Beyond food...

Ingrid Atteryd, chair of Brussels-based trade group Food Supplements Europe (FSE) pointed out the science-backed health benefits food supplements brought to Europeans – and highlighted the safety systems enshrined in EU law.

“The existing legal framework in the EU regulates the food supplement category extensively,” Atteryd said. “Not only are all the requirements of food law applied but in the majority of EU member states a notification process is in place to help ensure efficient monitoring of the market and additional regulatory oversight on quality, claims and ingredients. This goes beyond what is required for most food categories.”

FSE backed BEUC’s call for greater regulatory harmony across the 28-member bloc but “to ensure the full functioning of the single market and consistency across the EU.”

It welcomed further discussions under the EU REFIT programme to streamline and improve EU regulations.

EU dis-harmony

The BEUC report highlighted the discrepancies in both ingredient and supplement classification in regard to amino acids – “a debatable category of substances.”

It said amino acid forms were regulated as food supplements in Croatia, Italy and Slovenia.

“Yet amino acids are treated as additives in Germany and as ‘forbidden but tolerated’ substances in The Netherlands (except for methionine). In most of the other EU countries they are not regulated at all.”

BEUC said the 2000+ on-hold botanical claims should not be treated any differently under the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).

“The EU should end its special treatment to botanicals and move forward with the claims evaluation.”

The botanicals industry has said such an act would be damaging for both the industry and consumers as it would severley limit product choice and product information.

The full BEUC report is here.

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