A dietary supplement, also known as food supplement or nutritional supplement, is a preparation intended to supplement the diet and provide nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, fatty acids, or amino acids, that may be missing or may not be consumed in sufficient quantities in a person's diet. Some countries define dietary supplements as foods, while in others they are defined as drugs or natural health products.
Supplements containing vitamins or dietary minerals are included as a category of food in the Codex Alimentarius, a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety. These texts are drawn up by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an organization that is sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Food Supplements Directive of 2002 requires that supplements be demonstrated to be safe, both in quantity and quality. By definition, vitamins and minerals are essential, i.e. the body cannot make them, so they must be obtained exogenously or from the diet, but excessive intakes can be harmful, notably Vitamin A. Consequently, only those supplements that have been proven to be safe may be sold without prescription. As a category of food, food supplements cannot be labeled with drug claims in the bloc but can bear health claims and nutrition claims.
The dietary supplements industry in the UK, one of the 27 countries in the European Union, strongly opposed the Directive. In addition, a large number of consumers throughout Europe, including over one million in the UK, and many doctors and scientists, had signed petitions by 2005 against what are viewed by the petitioners as unjustified restrictions of consumer choice. In 2004, along with two British trade associations, the Alliance for Natural Health had a legal challenge to the European Union's Food Supplements Directive referred to the European Court of Justice by the High Court in London. Although the European Court of Justice's Advocate General subsequently said that the EU's plan to tighten rules on the sale of vitamins and food supplements should be scrapped, he was eventually overruled by the European Court, which decided that the measures in question were necessary and appropriate for the purpose of protecting public health. ANH, however, interpreted the ban as applying only to synthetically produced supplements—and not to vitamins and minerals normally found in or consumed as part of the diet. Nevertheless, the European judges did acknowledge the Advocate General's concerns, stating that there must be clear procedures to allow substances to be added to the permitted list based on scientific evidence. They also said that any refusal to add a product to the list must be open to challenge in the courts.
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