Read Geoffrey Lean's illuminating article published in the Daily Mail on the day of the court hearing in Luxembourg.
Why do meddling Eurocrats want to ban your vitamin pills?
(Could it be anything to do with the drug giants hoping for huge profits?)
Source: Daily Mail (Good Health section) 25/1/05
by Geoffrey Lean
Every day millions of us swallow vitamins, mineral supplements and alternative medicines in the well founded belief that they will benefit our health.
But in just six months, our favourite pills will be outlawed by diktat of the European Union, aided and abetted by Tony Blair's Government with a little help from the pharmaceutical industry, which sees a golden opportunity to take control of a lucrative market.
From the beginning of August, thousands of popular products will disappear from the shelves - allegedly on safety grounds - unless last-ditch attempts to save them succeed.
Today, campaigners are asking the European Court of Justice to over-rule the ban, which is contained in a little-publicised EU directive.
Led by the Alliance for Natural Health - representing both consumers and producers - they will argue that the European Union is exceeding its powers. But our Government - together with those of Greece and Portugal - is joining the EU in resisting them.
And this afternoon, the Tories, in a highly unusual move, are giving one of their rare allocations of debating time in the House of Commons to a cross-party motion calling for the ban to be scrapped. The motion is co-sponsored by Tory frontbencher Chris Grayling and former Labour minister Kate Hoey and supported by MPs from all parties.
If these two last-minute bids failand the honest attempts of millions to improve their health are thwarted - the Government and the EU will face an explosion of outrage and hostility.
Already, one million people have signed a petition condemning the ban and MPs have received heaps of letters.
Celebrities such as Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright, Bianca Jagger, Jenny Seagrove and Cherie Blair's erstwhile guru, Carole Caplin have also lobbied against it. But so far, every protest, every argument has fallen on tightly closed ears in Brussels, Whitehall and Downing Street.
We are heading for an Alice Through the Looking Glass world, where, in Chris Grayling's words: 'It will be illegal for a grown adult to buy vitamin tablets but legal for a teenager to purchase cigarettes.'
More than 40% of us take mineral and vitamin pills; a third of us take them every day. Like all alternative medicines they provoke controversies, some stirred up by a medical establishment and drug companies who fear that people will prefer them to their expensive drugs.
Some studies do suggest that some alternative products may endanger health if taken at recklessly high doses - though they are not in the same league as the damage caused by side-effects from prescription drugs, which one authoritative study concludes are the fourth biggest cause of death in the United States, after heart disease, cancer and strokes.
On the other hand, research shows that a lack of minerals and vitamins increases the risk of cancer and heart disease - and that levels of them are dropping alarmingly in modern diets.
This would suggest it is sensible to take the pills - and indeed a recent study by the American Medical Association shows that some do offer protection against these killer diseases.
This seems to make no difference to the EU which has gone about banning them in a particularly underhand way - through the Food Supplements Directive, a measure aimed at harmonising trade - following intense lobbying by drug companies.
The Directive stipulates that no supplements can be sold after August 1 that contain minerals or vitamins unless they are on a restricted - and apparently illogical - 'approved list'.
Incredibly , some controversial compounds such as sodium fluoride, used to kill pests, and caustic soda, used to clean drains are on the list, while scores of safe, non-toxic ingredients believed to benefit health, are excluded.
Campaigners calculate that about 300 of the 420 forms of minerals and vitamins contained in some 5,000 supplements on sale in Britain will be outlawed.
Some minerals - such as vanadium, silicon and boron - are banned entirely. More often, says the Alliance for Natural Health, relatively crude forms of minerals and vitamins are allowed, while the more sophisticated ones preferred by alternative medicine practitioners are banned.
For example, it says, forms of iron known to cause stomach upsets in some people will be permitted, while ones taken up more easily by the body will be outlawed.
And naturally occurring folic acid - found in spinach - will be banned, while the form sold by pharmaceutical companies will be allowed.
Other products may escape the ban, if special 'safety dossiers' on them are submitted. But the small companies that make them cannot afford the cost - at up to £250,000 an ingredient for products that may contain many.
Is this just bureaucracy gone mad? Or something more sinister?
There's a clue in the contents of that approved list: by and large, vitamins and minerals produced by big drug companies are on it, while ones made by small, specialist firms are not.
Another clue is provided by the fact that the big drug companies have welcomed the ban. Well, they would, wouldn't they? They say customers will notice little difference as most of their products will be on sale as usual.
They win both ways. Competition from sophisticated alternative medicines will be greatly reduced and they will be well-placed to dominate any residual market for the supplements, as smaller firms are forced out of business.
And what are we to make of this Government, which refuses to take adequate action on known perils like salt and fat in foods on the grounds that people have the right to decide what they consume, so long as they do not harm others?
Is it just being illogical in taking the opposite view over vitamins and minerals? Or is it being consistent in promoting the profits of giant food and drugs companies over the health of the people it is supposed torepresent?
The answer seems inescapable, and disgraceful. And there is worse to come. For this is just the start of an EU bid to get rid of most alternative medicines; a similar ban on herbal pills is in the pipeline.
In their cynicism, Whitehall and Brussels are sowing dragons' teeth. For the outrage at the ban is likely to hit its peak just as they are seeking Britons' approval in a referendum on the European constitution.
And such blatant interference in personal freedom is likely to turn many more people against the EU than the Euro.
Already some ministers sense the danger. Peter Hain has condemned the proposed ban as 'unnecessary interference'. It is hard to disagree.
For, as a long-standing supporter of the European ideal, I have to admit that the shameful story of the supplements illustrates the very abuse of power about which the sceptics have long warned us.