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"congratulates the Government on successfully negotiating a final text of the Directive that works in the interests of UK consumers and industry by ensuring that products are safe, properly labelled, and can be freely traded across EU member states; notes that UK legislation gives maximum flexibility that ensures that as many products as possible can continue to be marketed after the Directive comes into effect on 1st August, and that all of the vitamins and most of the minerals currently on sale in the UK will still be available; agrees with the Government's assessment that re-opening discussion on the Directive at this point runs the risk of making its effects more restrictive and is thus against UK interests; and welcomes the Government's continued commitment to working with the industry on assessing the safety of individual food supplements, and to facilitating negotiations with the European Food Standards Agency."
I warmly welcome this opportunity to discuss the Government's approach to legislation concerning the safety of food supplements and to defend the measures designed to protect and enhance consumer safety. I shall start with the history of the issue, because
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Opposition Members appear to have conveniently forgotten some of it. At the time the directive was signed, the industry recognised that it was the best achievable deal and it supported the UK's voting in favour of the directive. More specifically, three trade associations support the signing of the directive by the UKthe Health Food Manufacturers Association, the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain.
Miss Johnson: I will come on to the history of what has happened and the issues that do and do not face us at present, but what I have told the House is accurate. The HFMA supported the UK in voting in favour of the directive at the time. The hon. Gentleman has as much responsibility for explaining that contradiction as I do.
Mr. Todd: I can confirm what my hon. Friend says. I have a major manufacturer in my constituency who knew of my intellectual concerns about the proposal and took the trouble to contact me to say that they wanted to see it adopted.
Miss Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. It ties in neatly with the point that I am about to make. The larger food supplements companies supported the directive and saw it as a commercial opportunity to expand their market across the EUnow enlarged.
Mr. Brazier: The Minister mentions the interests of industry, but what about patients? My son suffered from chronic earaches, for which conventional medicine offered antibiotics, which have been clinically shown to break down resistance in the long run. Through a programme of high quality vitamin supplementsthe kind that will be banned in futureand herbal medicines, he has been completely cured. The patients must come first.
Miss Johnson: Those remarks very well illustrate the point that there is apparently huge confusion among some Members about the nature of the directive and where we are with its implementation. Nothing need be banned, and nothing is currently banned. The hon. Gentleman's points about vitamin supplements
Miss Johnson: There is nothing whatever about dose levels, and I shall come to that point in a moment. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) was scaremongering. There is nothing about dose levels in the public domain, and the European Food Safety Authority has not yet opined on the subject of dosage. There is nothing on which to base any argument about dose levels.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con):
We cannot be disingenuous in the House. The Minister knows perfectly well that submissions for a legion of products will not be made within the European Union deadline
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and that those products will not be available. It is simply not cost-effective and worth while to make submissions for many of those products. Therefore, they will not be available.
Miss Johnson: The hon. Gentleman is either being disingenuous himself or his brain is not working as well as I had hoped it might work. [Interruption.] I was being a little humorous, but the House will forgive me. His point is about the ingredients and the composition of products, not about dosage. That is a different matter and was raised a moment ago. I was dealing with it, but I shall come to the question of ingredients shortly.
I have already outlined business and industry support for the directive. The House will be interested to know that Which?, the magazine of the Consumers Association, which has many hundreds of thousands of members, supports the directive. The Consumers Association publication "Food SupplementsWhat the new EU legislation means for UK consumers" said that it
"the new legislation will mean that at long last consumers will be in a position to use supplements that are safe, of the quality they would expect and have far more information about what they contain and how much to take".
Rob Marris: Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is no UK system for recording centrally adverse reactions to any of these substances? The Opposition, particularly the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), seem to have totally forgotten the precautionary principle. We are almost back to the situation that we had in the 1970s when people said, "I knew an old man who smoked 60 cigarettes a day until he was 85 and then got knocked over and killed by a bus. It wasn't cancer, ergo cigarettes are safe." That is patent nonsense and patently unscientific. We need to investigate the substances to find out whether they be safe, and the directive will allow the investigation to take place.
Miss Johnson: My hon. Friend makes a very useful point. There is no system for recording adverse reactions, and not just those that are a matter of life and death. However, what would be said to any Government or Opposition who had opposed measures for consumer safety and had allowed something to enter the market which, 20 or 30 years down the line, was shown to have damaged the health of people who had taken it consistently?
I wish to make progress for a minute. Then I will be happy to take interventions. I am not suggesting that such questions necessarily apply in this
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case, but there is no systematic way of reporting adverse reactions. The yellow card system is not used to pick up the adverse reactions to these substances. People may take them and decide to change to something else without ever reporting adverse reactions or being aware that the adverse reaction has been caused by the preparation that they have taken.
Mr. Blunt: One of the grounds being raised today at the European Court of Justice is proportionality. Does the hon. Lady not agree that it was pretty extraordinary of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) to talk about the safety of these things when we know that 5,000 people a year are dying of hospital-acquired infections in NHS hospitals? Surely it would be much better for the Government to regulate such matters properly, rather than wasting everyone's time by supporting the ludicrous European Union directive.
Miss Johnson: We are taking firm action on hospital cleanliness and doing everything that we can to reduce the rate of such infections. We are on the side of the consumer on that, as we are on this. We want consumers to be safe in both contexts.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Is the Minister's case the ludicrous proposition that there will be no restriction in choice because all products will continue to be sold under the intrusive regulatory regime, or is she making the case that many will not be sold any more because they are unsafe? She seems to be arguing both casesshe is certainly saying that the more than 1 million people who signed the petition are wrong.
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