For over 15 years, Codex’s Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU) has been focusing on vitamin and mineral supplements with the view to setting an unnecessarily low borderline for dosages that could be regarded as foods. This paves the way for governments to consider anything over these dosages as drugs, in the process deeply threatening the various disciplines such as functional, nutritional and integrative medicine that use high dose supplementation in place of conventional pharmaceutical drugs. Although it’s theoretically possible for nutrients to be authorised as drugs, the sheer cost of proving both efficacy and safety is prohibitive for the vast majority of smaller companies that dominate this therapeutic natural products market. The pharmaceutical companies could also register nutrients as drugs, but they won’t see much merit in undercutting their patented core products with unpatented natural products that yield much lower returns.
In 2002, a European Union (EU) Directive was narrowly pushed through the European Parliament as a means of harmonising laws on vitamin and mineral food supplements across its then 15 and now 27 Member States. This law, which was challenged with partial success by the European campaign group, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), aims to both control what vitamin and mineral forms you can include in food supplements, as well as the maximum dose at which you can sell the product. The ANH was only able to challenge that part of the law that was already in force, namely which ingredients could be used. One of the clear wins in the case, which was won in the High Court in London in 2004 and then referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for its ruling in July 2005, was that natural forms of vitamins and minerals—that were at great risk of being banned because of the cost of proving their safety and bioavailability—were forced outside the scope of the Directive. Fortunately, they are now regarded rightfully as foods and if you want to consume concentrated carotenoids extracted from carrots or folate from spinach, you will be affected by the very same general food laws affecting the green grocer who sells the whole vegetables. This is a definite win for us, the consumer.