Although painted with a consumerist face some of the articles of the directive would demand more detailed labelling, and specify which substances could be given to infants and young children this directive is patently about creating a level commercial playing field. If passed into European law, it must be adopted by all member states. As a trade directive, there is no possibility of opting out, such as there are with other categories of directives, such as taxation.
The directive seeks to create a single market for food supplements through several means, including devising a list of ingredients which may be used in supplements, creating common maximum permitted levels of these nutrients, providing common criteria for purity and labelling, and requiring that all member states prohibit any trade in products not complying with the directive.
For many countries like Germany and France, this represents a liberalising of their currently stringent laws. They may have the ability to increase the nutrient levels of food supplements and, thus, have more popular products on the shelves.
But, for Britain and the Netherlands, this directive is almost certain to be more restrictive.
One of the main problems centres around the use of a 'positive list' of permitted ingredients. At the end of the directive, a list is attached of nutrients which are approved for inclusion in food supplements.
The list is incredibly conservative, listing only the most well known vitamins and minerals for which RDAs have been established. At the moment, a number of important nutrients such as inositol and choline which are known to be vital to human health but where RDAs haven't been established, have been excluded. Missing also are new supplements such as MSM, glucosamine and the like. Any vitamin or mineral not on the list when the directive is put in force will not be allowed to be sold anywhere in Europe.
The most worrying portion of the directive concerns the criteria for determining permitted levels of nutrients. According to Article 5 of the directive, setting these maximum limits should take into account several factors. These include the upper safe level (USL) of the total intake of each nutrient from dietary sources. This is the highest intake shown to be safe before adverse events appear.
To give you some idea of the types of levels we're talking about, in the US, the National Academy of Sciences has determined that the USL of vitamin B6 is 100-200 mg and that the USL of vitamin A is 10,000 IU. These are levels which many members of the population take routinely every day of their lives. Indeed, many vitamins in both Britain and the US contain the USL of each nutrient as a standard dose.
The directive also wishes to take into account the Population Reference Intakes (PRIs) of nutrients (a newfangled version of the RDA) particularly when these are close to the USL.
Finally, it includes intakes of nutrients from other dietary sources, such as fortified foods and from food itself.
The USL of each nutrient is to be established by the Scientific Committee for Food (SCF), which will pass its determinations on to the Commission. The Commission will then make its recommendations for the supplement levels to the Standing Committee for Foodstuffs. In making their determination, the Commission has indicated that it will take into account the intake of nutrients from a 'normal' diet, plus the intake from 'fortified foods'. They've also indicated that they will subtract some amounts just to be on the safe side.