Consumers attack Boots over lower doses in its supplements
By Nicole Martin
(Filed: 05/02/2005)

Britain's largest chemist was accused yesterday of "watering down" its vitamin and mineral supplements without clearly warning its customers.

The evidence is already on its shelves. Boots admitted last night that it had lowered the dose of some of its most popular own brands and removed or substituted some nutrients.

The changes come ahead of a European directive that will ban the sale of more than 300 vitamins and minerals in Britain from August.

Health campaigners, including the actress Jenny Seagrove, attacked the move as irresponsible. They are disappointed that the chemist supports the directive, which, they claim, poses a threat to the 21 million Britons who use supplements.

"I am very disappointed," said Seagrove. "People buy vitamin and mineral supplements in good faith without always examining the labelling to check for changes. Boots had a duty to let them know they were re-formulating the products.

"The whole thing is rather short-termist anyway. Once people realise that the products aren't as efficient, they will stop buying them."

Boots said it had altered the packaging of its supplements to alert customers to the changes.

The directive, designed to harmonise the sale of vitamin and mineral supplements across the European Union, contains a list of approved nutrients that can be sold in Europe and excludes more than 300 items currently available in Britain.

Examples of nutrients not on the list include boron, sulphur and vanadium, commonly used in multi-vitamin supplements.

Manufacturers who submit a dossier by July proving the safety and efficacy of the banned ingredients will be allowed to continue selling their supplements.

Paul Suggett, the head of vitamin development at Boots, said the chemist had acted "in a timely fashion" to ensure that its products complied with the directive. "When we re-formulated products we also changed the packaging and gave them a new look so customers could see they had been changed," he said.

"We took the view that, since not enough evidence was available to support the necessity of either boron or vanadium supplementation, we should no longer continue to include them in our multi-vitamin product."

Boots has also changed the doses of certain vitamins to comply with the part of the directive that sets upper limits and is expected to come in next year.

For example, the chemist has changed levels of beta-carotene from 15mg to 7mg, and altered the labelling on Vitamin C Effervescent 1000mg from "take 1-2 daily" to "take 1 daily".

Sue Croft, of Consumers for Health Choice, a European consumer lobby group, said the directive would seriously undermine the right of people to choose the way they protected their health. "It will force many to resort to unregulated and sometimes suspect sources on the internet to buy the supplements of their choice," she said.

Dr Robert Verkerk, executive director of the Alliance for Natural Health, which is campaigning against the legislation, said: "The nutrients under threat by the ban are not only safe but beneficial in promoting optimum health in many millions of people. This ban should be overturned."