Berlin, Germany: The free availability of beta-carotene products in German health food stores continues to be threatened by government concerns about the supposed risks of the vitamin.
Following lengthy discussions between the German government and food and supplement industry representatives, the authorities are expected to press for a reduction in the current industry proposal of 4.8mg of beta carotene per day in supplements and functional foods, and for warnings to be included on all products. The proposals represent a retreat from the outright ban on beta-carotene supplements previously under discussion.
Other countries in the EU have taken similar views, following the publication of research findings casting doubt on the health benefits on beta-carotene supplements. The German move has precipitated further discussion at EU member state level on the supposed need for a review of beta-carotene use. At a meeting of the Commission's Standing Committee on Foodstuffs in June, some member states recommended that intake levels of the vitamin as a supplement should not exceed 1-2mg per day, estimated by the Scientific Committee on Food, and said beta-carotene should be included in the Commission's next assessment of additive intake levels under Directive 94/36/EC, which regulates food colourings.
In the meantime, health food industry representatives have been asked to provide information on the supposed risks posed by the substance and decisions on "appropriate action" are expected later this year. Likely measures include a review of existing legislation and a reconsideration of the inclusion of beta-carotene in the planned positive list in the EU Food Supplement Directive.
In October last year, the Standing Committee on Foodstuffs said there was insufficient evidence to support claims for health benefits from synthetic and supplementary beta-carotene. "The general assumption that individuals who eat more fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids, or have high levels of serum beta-carotene, have a lower risk for cancer or cardiovascular disease cannot be extended to synthetic pure beta-carotene or to specific formulations containing beta-carotene, because the role of other carotenoids or other compounds from vegetables and fruits, and associated dietary or lifestyle patterns, has not been adequately explored in the epidemiological studies," it claimed.