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In the debate on 20th January, Hazel Blears claimed that reports of the imminent withdrawal of swathes of products are misleading. But a huge number of UK products will be affected. Just take the list provided to some of your Lordships by Holland and Barrett. Products equating to some £6 million worth of sales will have to be taken off the market by that retailer. The Department of Health in answer to a recent Written Question from me stated that up to 5 per cent of the market for food supplements may be affected. Based on a market of £450 million, that is an enormous £22.5 million.
Rather than pooh-poohing the claims of manufacturers and retailers about the threat that the directive poses to their businesses, the Government need to start vigorously arguing for an amending directive to add to the positive lists. What are the Government doing to promote such an amending directive?
In the debate on 20th January the government amendment welcomed the Government's intention to take advantage of flexibility to permit continued use of substances not on the permitted list where products comply with existing UK food safety legislation. That gave a quite misleading impression that the Government had secured substantial derogation to allow missing nutrients not on the positive lists when that was not the case; far from it.
Continued use is allowed for certain substances if not in the annexes until December 2009 if safety dossiers have been submitted by July 2005. But, far from being a flexible system, the cost of preparing a dossier for submission is massive. The biological and toxicological data required for the technical section depend on an analysis and submission of a large array of data which have to be specially generated. The manufacturers say that those kind of data take two years or more to create and therefore could not be ready by the deadline of July 2005.
Even the Government in answer to Written Questions accepted that the cost of producing one dossier could be anything in the region of £80,000 to £250,000. Were the Government aware of those costs when they were debating the matter in January? In practice, it appears that fewer than a dozen dossiers are being produced. The Government, far from patting themselves on the back, should be urging their EU partners for a simplified process of approval of these dossiers.
In the debate on 20th January the Government claimed that the long-term availability of products currently on the market will depend on future developments on maximum limits and lists of permitted nutrients. Hazel Blears, the then Minister responsible said as regards maximum permitted limits:
If our own FSA had its way, vitamins such as B6 vitamin C and zinc would now be able to be sold only in far lower doses than hitherto. What valid safety reasons are there for reducing dosages of those vitamins and minerals? For instance, how many adverse reactions have been notified as a result of vitamin B6 consumption since advice was last given in 1997?
I recently asked a series of Written Questions relating to the UK expert group's report, to which I have not yet had a reply. These related to how the expert group's report was handled by the FSA's press office. Why were its recommendations for safe upper limits substantially different from other internationally respected organisations as regards safe upper limits?
It is no wonder that consumers and manufacturers are so pessimistic about the outcome of this directive. At a meeting with industry representatives and the Minister for Public Health on Monday 9th June, the Food Standards Agency stated that the European Union is now likely to set maximum permitted levels for nutrients in food supplements on the basis of nutritional neednot safety.
The Government's support is needed to ensure that pressure from countries with a more restrictive approach does not prevail and thatwhere safesupplements containing ingredients at current levels can continue to be sold.
In the mean time, there is great uncertainty on dose levels. When and if these regulations become law this August, no one will know what daily dose level of vitamins will be allowed. That makes it impossible for manufacturers who need to be able to plan for their products. There will be a huge impact on small and medium-sized enterprise suppliers. What account have the Government taken of that? We have a thriving health food industry in Britain.
The reformulated product, as pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, may not be as effectivefor example, the form of selenium permitted by the EU SCF committee. The positive list of nutrient sources does not now include selenomethionine, which is found in broccoli. Ms Blears made the breathtaking claim:
In many areas, we on these Benches have argued for the precautionary principle to be applied to new and untried products and technology. But what possible reason can there be for introducing the restrictions contained in the directive for products which have had years of safe use? Is it because we must all be in thrall to new pharmaceuticals and are not allowed to rely on natural traditional remedies?
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, on behalf of the Green Party, I express our support for the noble Earl and his efforts today. I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time at this time of day. This is a very important debate which, one would have thought, could have been timed for a better period than the dinner hour.
Nevertheless, I want to make two points. First, no matter what the FSA say, the Government cannot possibly say that they would have introduced this measure unless they were being forced to by the European Union. This is certainly an area where subsidiarity should have been allowed to prevail and we should have been allowed to conduct our own affairs in our own way.
Secondly, I would like to support briefly what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said about the precautionary principle. The Government and the European Union appear to have introduced the precautionary principle as a justification. The precautionary principle is not, as the noble Lord said, there to be introduced and involved in things which have been going along for a long time without any proven harm of any kind. It is very bad and dishonest to use that particular argument in this case.
I hope that the noble Earl will have his way and that the House will decide that the Government must go back and renegotiate the measure. It is quite intolerable as it stands.
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