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Maximum nutrient levels may be set high

An industry-led meeting between various bodies of the European Union and the European foods and supplements industry has highlighted a likely liberal EU position on maximum levels of nutrients permitted in foods and food supplements — due to be determined in the latter part of 2007.

When food supplements and food fortification bills were passed in recent months and years — with maximum permitted levels to be set at a later date — many in industry feared conservative models would win the day and upper limits would be set at levels required to prevent sickness rather than at levels deemed safe by science and which served the broader purpose of promoting optimal health.

This now appears unlikely as liberal models such as those submitted by the European Vitamins and Minerals working group — a sub-committee of the UK Food Standards Agency — and another jointly conceived by the European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM) and the European Responsible Nutrition Alliance — has won much support throughout the European Parliament and even among formerly dissenting sections of the European Commission (EC).

"It appears those models advocating scientific safety substantiation are gaining most favour," said Lorene Courrege, EHPM regulatory affairs director. "It was a good discussion and the message from the EC was quite good. There is work to do to clarify some points and we are waiting for the food industry to come back with their proposals and levels next year. But the will to find solutions is there."

She said finer details being debated most fiercely were:

  • Children's levels (in many cases science was still being gathered)
  • Whether maximum levels should be set as a single figure or a range that would give flexibility for each member state to work within
  • Whether nutrients should be classified into categories or tiers (low-risk, high-risk) to determine which should bear label warnings
  • Whether label warnings should be employed at all
  • Whether or not minor adverse effects are acceptable

In regard to label warnings, Courrege said: "Apparently industry and consumers are not very keen on seeing warning labels, but we were talking about warning labels for going over certain doses. It is using labelling to address going above a certain level rather than specifying a category of risk. It is more a general measure."

However, the EC's head of food law, nutrition and labelling unit, Basil Mathioudakis, said consumers and some manufacturers opposed label warnings. The UK-based Council for Responsible Nutrition agreed.

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