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Nutritional supplements: caution!

There is an urgent need to evaluate nutritional supplements before they are put on the market.

A 2002 EU Directive setting out obligations concerning the composition and labelling of nutritional supplements has belatedly been transposed into French law.

The decree defines nutritional supplements as "foodstuffs whose purpose is to supplement the usual diet and which constitute a concentrated source of nutrients or other substances (…) sold in doses (capsules, bottle, powder, etc.)", and stipulates what they may contain vitamins, minerals, plants, and substances with a nutritional or physiological purpose, etc. The decree specifies that pharmacological substances and plants with physiological effects are prohibited (in short, no drugs in nutritional supplements). Some lists of authorised ingredients are appended to the decree and others are to come.

For nutritional supplements containing new ingredients not yet marketed in France but available in another European Member State, a simple declaration must be sent to the DGCCRF (the French market and consumer regulator), which has just two months to raise any objections to its sale. Unless the DGCCRF objects because there is a "real health risk", these new ingredients will be added to the lists of authorised ingredients within 12 months.

As the French Food Safety Agency has pointed out, this "check" is highly inadequate.

©Prescrire October 2006

Source: "Compléments alimentaires : la passoire administrative" Rev Prescrire 2006 ; 26 (276) : 656-657.

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