Upper-safe-levels debate rages in Europe

Debate over upper safe levels (USLs) in foods and supplements in the European Union is set to heat up following the closure of a consultation period in September that saw regulatory bodies, trade associations and companies submit data and opinions on the principles by which maximum nutrient levels should be established across the 27 member states.

Many suggested models have been submitted to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is charged by the European Commission with assessing their validity along with other data, and final USL recommendations are expected to be made by EFSA in the latter part of 2007.

A wide range of opinions exists with the UK Food Standards Agency position at one end, where 'scientific risk assessment' is employed to generate generally high maximum levels in alliance with the WHO-backed Codex position that aims to harmonise food standards and regulations worldwide.

At the other end of the spectrum is the more conservative approach favoured by Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment Institute, which places much weight on nutrient intake from regular food sources and so recommends lower maximum levels for food and supplements fortification.

However, the German Food Association disputed this by highlighting the fact that many German supplements and food companies favoured 'scientific risk assessment.' Ursula Schafer of the German consultancy Diapharm said many German companies had expressed their concerns with the BfR paper to EFSA. "The BfR approach is flawed," Schafer said.

France and Denmark also submitted conservative models to EFSA although a French food-supplements association appealed against a French government order to establish low maximum levels in supplements.

Daniel Fabricant, vice president of scientific affairs at the Washington, DC-based Natural Products Association, said it was time the EU put science ahead of politics.

"There is not a good scientific dogma in place there. It is too political. In whose interest is it to set restrictive standards? the EFSA is considering the pros and cons of five different models but as far as we are concerned there is one model and that is scientific risk assessment as expounded by Codex."

He added: "Many of our members are very concerned by this. We are watching it closely."

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