Recommendation and use of non-compliant Food Supplements in the UK

Risks associated with the recommendation and use of non-compliant Food Supplements in the UK

Online stores such as Amazon and eBay has seen the range of products available in the nutritional therapy sector increase exponentially.  Whilst purchasers are familiar with the restrictions and safety requirements applicable under EU regulations to sector products supplied in the EU they are often not aware that products supplied in this manner from outside the EU do not always meet these requirements and are illegal.

Relevant Law and Regulations

Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA)The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA requires allergen labelling limited to eight food groups – Milk, Eggs, Fish, Crustacean shellfish, Tree nuts, Peanuts, Wheat and Soybeans.

This act differs from the EU Food information for Consumers Regulation which requires fourteen food groups to be listed – celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)

In simple terms Celery and products thereof, Mustard and products thereof, Sesame seeds and products thereof, required to be listed in the EU/UK are NOT required to be listed on supplements from the USA. 

Legislative Changes

In the UK, food supplements are required to be regulated as foods and are subject to the provisions of general food law. Following the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette, the Environment Secretary confirmed legislation will be brought forward by the end of summer to strengthen allergen labelling rules

‘Natasha’s Law’ will require food businesses to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged foods. It is not considered necessary to strengthen the Food Supplements (England) Regulations 2003 which clearly allocates responsibility for those importing supplements.

Concerns and Risks

There are over 2 million people in the UK with some form of food allergy. The NHS estimates that allergy to sesame seed protein alone may affect 1 in 10 people in the UK.

The Government Food Standards Agency (FSA) is very clear as to where responsibility for protection of the public lies and provides the following guidance:

‘If you import and sell goods from countries outside the EU, you are legally responsible for all aspects of those goods, including composition, safety and labelling of the products’

Unfortunately, practitioners who use or recommend supplements which are not EU/UK compliant will not be covered by their malpractice insurance.  The main UK underwriter has confirmed:

  1. Practitioners must supply or recommend only products legally appropriate for sale in the UK. One of necessities for a product to be legally sold in the UK is that it complies with EU requirements for labelling.
  2. It is the intention of the policy to protect the policy holder.  The policy holder must take all due diligence regarding the supply or recommendation of products.
  3. All policies require that the policy holder acts in a manner compliant with relevant law.  The supply of illegal products will breach the terms of the policy and may invalidate cover.

Actions Arising

Whilst local FSA and Trading Standard Officers in combination with the Police may enforce the allergen information regulations in the local trading environment, responsibility for permitted availability via the online provider is not being addressed.  The Government accepts that all appropriate measures to protect sufferers of food allergies most be fully implemented.

The FNTP in conjunction with representatives from several allergy charities has commenced engagements with:

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in regard to international post and courier service requirements relative to non-compliant food supplements

National Trading Standards (NTS) in regard to advertising and supply of non-compliant food supplements in the UK

FNTP has commenced an engagement with the Department of Business Enterprise and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and following this recommends a further meeting be scheduled with both BIES, the FSA and HMRC.

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