Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Time is running out

For several years the natural health industry in this country has been engaged in a running battle with the European Commission to defend the rights of UK consumers to continue to buy higher strength vitamins and supplements. It seems now that a decision is imminent: a decision which could lead to the closure of independent health stores across the country, the loss of many small manufacturing companies and the denial of consumer rights.

Historically, consumers in Britain have enjoyed the right to buy vitamins and minerals in food
supplements at higher strengths than in many European countries. Such restrictions as there are have been imposed on the basis of safety. No supplements can be sold in this country at unsafe levels. The industry is well-regulated and controlled. There is no risk to health in any products currently available.

Why then does the EC want to force all European countries to adopt a uniform strength level for food supplements. Simply to create a single market, a level playing field: to remove any barriers to trade.

The EC could propose high permitted levels for vitamins and minerals in supplements, like those levels we are already familiar with in the UK, or it could set very much lower, restrictive levels. Were the EC to set lower restrictive levels for vitamins and minerals, this would outlaw many hundreds of safe and popular higher potency products that have been available to consumers for many years, with no evidence of any harm whatsoever, and that are accepted as properly manufactured and safe by the British regulators.

Over 700 health food stores could close and 4,000 jobs would be lost in the UK.

France, Germany and several other European Union Member States are pushing hard for low dose levels to be set when the process moves forward in the next few months, and the United Kingdom is one of only a few countries pressing for higher levels. We will simply be out-voted in the European decision making process.

Consumers for Health Choice (CHC) believes that the British Government can do and must do much more to argue our country's case in Europe if consumers are not to be denied access to higher potency supplements of their choice

CHC have intensified their campaign in recent weeks because the European Commission will bring forward in the very near future its long-awaited proposals for maximum dose levels for all vitamins and minerals in food supplements.

All the signs point to those figures being set at restrictive levels which could threaten the continued availability of many higher potency dietary supplements; the future of many specialist retailers and manufacturers is at risk.

CHC are asking everybody who cares about freedom of choice to visit their web site and download a letter or postcard to send to their local MP. These postcards can also be obtained from your nearest health food shop.

You can find out more and help the CHC campaign by visiting their website: www.consumersforhealthchoice.com.


james said...

Thought you said a Europe-wide single market was a good thing, Mike.

Mike Barker said...

Not when that single market involves the restriction of trade. The single market should operate for the benefit of consumers and therefore it should be as open and liberal as possible.

In this instance the drug companies exert excessive influence over the political process and wish to see the market restricted to low strength supplements which are of benefit only as a basic level insurance against deficiency.

The UK industry wants to see supplements continue to be available at strengths which are strong enough to have a positive and beneficial effect on the treatment of health problems.

I'm sure you can see why the drug companied might want to keep this market to themselves.

james said...

The creation of a Europe-wide single market was and is a political act rather than something which arises out of trade - and is therefore likely to be shaped by lobbying pressure, whether of a corporate or democratic nature.

The odd thing from your perspective is that as a liberal, you would presumably oppose action to restrict the trade of companies that have excessive influence within a market, whether by economy of scale or by political lobbying.

Mike Barker said...

James, you presume wrong!

Liberalism, with or without a capital L, does not presume a free-for-all where the strongest and fittest crush the rest and dominate their environment to such an extent that the freedom of others is reduced.

Liberalism has boundaries, James.

There is nothing liberal about free markets being restricted, consumer choice being denied and smaller companies and their employees being threatened by, as you say, "companies that have excessive influence within a market, whether by economy of scale or by political lobbying."

james said...

The economic orthodoxy that has shaped the EU's creation and the policies of UK govts for the past three decades is economic liberalism.

All talk of free markets is usually to cover corporate domination and financialisation of the UK economy and the abandonment of regulation and other forms of government intervention to protect workers, consumers, and small businesses.

From what you say, you don't sound like an economic liberal, more a social democrat... Which makes me wonder, what happened to the social democrats - have they vanished within the Liberal Democrats?