Robert Verkerk PhD shares insights on EU challenges for food supplements in Nutraingredients (Europe) special edition

Nutraingredients (Europe) put a Q&A to two European food supplement groups this week on the 7 billion Euro European supplements sector. ANH-Intl founder, Robert Verkerk PhD was one of those sharing his expert insights. Dr Verkerk spoke about the impact on the EU supplements market of the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulations (NHCR), the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) and the novel foods regulation. Of the NHCR, he said, “It’s been devastating to the communication of useful, scientifically relevant information to the consumer. In that sense the NHCR has failed spectacularly with regard to its original objectives to avoid consumers being misled”. He said the THMPD has impacted the overall diversity of products on the market, and that “Food supplements containing herbs that are registered with the THMPD are now being challenged by regulators, often following complaints by THR licensees”. Bogus arguments about safety are often attempts to “mask concerns about unfair competition”. He added, “When you scrutinise the THRs and food supplement products closely, the differences are apparent and it’s high time that the sector adapted a dual regime”. Member state authorities classify such products as unlicensed medicines, or select individual botanicals and categorise them as unauthorised novel foods.

Northern Ireland and Lithuania join those banning GM crops in Europe

Northern Ireland and Lithuania have joined the growing list of those who have announced bans on the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops under the EU opt-out regulations. They join Scotland, France, Greece and Latvia. Germany is expected to follow soon. The Northern Ireland Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said “I remain unconvinced of the advantages of GM crops, and I consider it prudent to prohibit their cultivation here for the foreseeable future. The pattern of land use here and the relatively small size of many agricultural holdings creates potential difficulties if we were to seek to keep GM and non-GM crops separate. I consider that the costs of doing so could potentially be significant and, in many cases, totally impractical. Further, we are rightly proud of our natural environment and rich biodiversity. We are perceived internationally to have a clean and green image. I am concerned that the growing of GM crops, which I acknowledge is controversial, could potentially damage that image”. The Lithuanian Agriculture Minister, Virginija Baltraitienė has reportedly said “So far we are not ready. We have to choose whether to promote organic production, or allow GMOs. Our strategy is to increase the number of clean, high-quality products”.

Meanwhile in China a nationwide investigation is being launched “over the suspected illegal cultivation of genetically-modified crops”. This follows a report that “GMO soybeans have been found in the country's top growing area for the oilseed”.

Low vitamin D leads to accelerated decline in cognitive function

A new study published in JAMA has concluded that low vitamin D status is associated with accelerated decline in cognitive function domains. The study is from the University of California and Rutgers University, and set out to “assess associations between vitamin D status and trajectories of change in subdomains of cognitive function in a cohort of ethnically diverse older adults.” The results showed that low levels of the sunshine vitamin were associated with a three times faster rate of cognitive decline than those with adequate vitamin D levels. The researchers believe that the association of vitamin D deficiency and cognitive decline may correspond to elevated risk for incidents of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. They state, “Given that vitamin D insufficiency is medically correctable, well-designed clinical trials that emphasize enrollment of individuals of nonwhite race/ethnicity with hypovitaminosis D could be useful for testing the effect of vitamin D replacement on dementia prevention.”

Childhood cancer linked to pesticide use

A study due to be published in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics has linked residential exposure to pesticides during childhood with a significant increase in the risk of childhood leukemia. Researchers made their findings through a meta-analysis, reviewing 16 epidemiologic studies published since 1993 on the link between childhood cancer and pesticide exposure. Dr Catherine J Karr, professor of pediatrics and director of the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at the University of Washington, commented, “We are starting to get to the place where there is enough science, it just starts to add up to say that we can't really ignore anymore ... the role of environmental factors like pesticides in health.” Based on their findings, the authors of the study suggest, “every effort should be made to limit children’s exposure to pesticides.” They do note however that while the results are cause for concern, more research is needed to further elucidate the connection between pesticide exposure and childhood cancer.

Antidepressant not effective for major depression

A major reanalysis of GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) 2001 paper on paroxetine, a treatment for major depression in adolescents, has shown no efficacy for major depression, and that there was in fact an increase in harm. GSK’s now infamous Study 329 concluded in 2001 that, “paroxetine is beneficial in treating adolescents with major depression.” In 2013 the ‘restoring invisible and abandoned trials’ (RIAT) initiative was launched, which identified many trials requiring restoration. They emailed the funders (GSK being one of them), asking them to signal their intention to publish the unpublished trials or publish corrected versions of misreported trials. GSK did not signal any intent to publish a corrected version of any of its trials — Study 329 included — as, in their words, it “accurately reflects the honestly-held views of the clinical investigator authors” and GSK did “not agree that the article is false, fraudulent or misleading.” So no correction, no retraction, no apology… This has reignited calls for a retraction of the original study, and has put additional pressure on academic and professional institutions to publicly address the increasing allegations of scientific wrongdoing.

Donald Trump links vaccines to autism

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has been criticised for linking vaccinations to “an epidemic” of autism. The latest occurrence was during Wednesday's presidential debate after CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon, if he'd tell Trump to stop saying vaccines cause autism. Although Carson didn’t challenge Trump directly he commented that the “resistance against autism is largely a symptom of resistance against big government.” He also suggested that Trump read up about it and make his decision “after getting the real facts.” Both candidates agree that vaccines could be spread out over a longer period of time, as does Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). Paul says he is “all for vaccines, but I'm also for freedom.”

No more fluoride to be added to Arab drinking water

Following Arab Water Works (AWW) manager, Ted Hyatt’s, recommendation, the Arab Water Works board of directors has voted 3-0 to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water. Hyatt explained his reasoning saying that the, “public has access to more sources of fluoride than they did when water fluoridation was first introduced. Examples being dental products (toothpaste and fluoride rinse), prescription fluoride supplements and fluoride applied by dental professionals.” We think this is a good move, but others aren’t so keen. The public are upset that the AWW didn’t inform them of the decision, or even the possibility of the decision, and Arab dentist Dr John York, Dr Robert Meador, the dental health director of the Alabama Department of Public Health, and others plan to be at the next AWW board’s next meeting on the 22nd September to try to convince the board to change their decision.