Government review acknowledges case for UK solutions for MPLs and botanicals

A major new Government review has acknowledged the case for UK-led solutions to issues such as the setting of maximum levels for vitamins and the regulation of herbal and botanical products.

Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union (Health) is one of six reports – there will be 32 eventually – examining Britain’s relationship with the European Union. Specifically it focuses on “everything deriving from EU law that affects what happens in the UK” (the definition of the term ‘competences’ for the purposes of the review)

The health review draws on extensive submissions from a wide range of stakeholders including industry groups, NGOs, MPs and subject specialists. Consumers for Health Choice (CHC) and the Health Food Manufacturers Association (HFMA) both submitted evidence and each is referred to in the final document published by the foreign secretary William Hague last week.

While the review concludes that stakeholders generally consider the current balance of competence is “broadly appropriate” and notes the benefits of a  harmonized approach to regulation in some important areas, it also highlights areas of inconsistency in EU regulation and the UK’s tendency to ‘gold plate’ legislation.

The review singles out the herbal sector as “a good example of inconsistent implementation across the EU”. Elsewhere, it suggests that the setting of maximum limits for vitamins and minerals (MPLs) provides an example where the principle of harmonization is undermined by the very different approaches of individual member states. It notes that “Consumers for Health Choice and the Health Food Manufacturers Association have strongly opposed such harmonization measures that they consider will restrict the unique nature of the UK market”.

In wording from which UK industry can take some encouragement, the review adds: “The Government believes that any future decisions on vitamins and mineral supplements need to be proportionate and based on evidence, so that consumers have confidence in what they buy, while maintaining a wide choice of safe products.”

Commenting, CHC’s director of strategy Chris Whitehouse said: “This very thorough review of the balance of competences between the European Union and individual member states backs CHC concerns in relation to the operation of the single market and the process of setting maximum levels for vitamins and minerals in supplements.

“CHC is pleased that detailed concerns it fed into this fundamentally important Government review have been acknowledged and generally sound conclusions drawn.”

HFMA chair, Lynn Lord, told Natural Products: “We were very pleased to see that the Department of Health has referred to the HFMA on two occasions, in relation to the setting of MPLs, noting our key concerns about any future regulations on this, and also in an earlier section of the report, where the HMFA is also listed among a number of stakeholders that have expressed concerns about ‘inconsistent interpretation and enforcement’ of regulations, resulting in distortion of the market.

Lord added that the Government’s “positive statement” on the need for a proportionate and evidence-based approach to MPLs “clearly shows that the DH understands our concerns about any future setting of MPLs and the need for a measured approach to this that takes into account the impact on UK businesses and consumers”.

• While CHC and  HFMA can take satisfaction that key concerns of the natural heath sector have been recognized in this major Government review, those asking if it signals a fundamental shift of approach by the UK Government might be disappointed. In the wider political arena serious questions are already being asked about the overall tone of the review. The Daily Mail decided that the Government’s review of Brussels power amounted to a ‘Whitehall whitewash’ while the Daily Telegraph gave its coverage the headline ‘EU is good for Britain’.

Giving his personal analysis, the political affairs commentator Chris Whitehouse told Natural Products: “The Government’s review has left a lot of back bench Conservatives fuming at what they see as a Foreign Office whitewash – an attempt to hide the cracks in what many consider to be a fundamentally flawed relationship with the EU. Many have made the point that this is a Civil Service review, not the political review for which they are hungry. They feel they have been offered a sniff of the red meat of real reform, only to be served up a recipe based on political Quorn.”

“They feel they have been offered a sniff of the red meat of real reform, only to be served up a recipe based on political Quorn”