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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I suppose that I should declare an interest. My interest is that I am a sometime consumer of some supplements.

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I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Howe for having put down the Motion. He made a devastating argument against the regulations. He said that it was a market harmonisation measure—nothing more, nothing less. That is so. The measure is designed to harmonise the markets of European Union countries. Why? In the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, where millions of consumers have used higher rates of minerals and vitamins for decades, it will mean less of a substantial number of products. It ought to open up the market to our standards; as it is, it will close up our markets.

Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said, there is no evidence that the products, some of which have been used for 50 years, are unsafe. That should be the test: are they safe? At the moment, all products are submitted to the Health Food Manufacturers' Association, which has a department for examining new products. It ensures that the ingredients and the doses are correct, and it works closely with the Food Standards Agency. If the regulations come into effect, any product that contains any of the 300 relevant substances must be removed or re-formulated. There is nothing wrong with those products. If they are removed or re-formulated, it will be an expensive business. If the products were dangerous, we could understand; but they are not. They have not been dangerous for years. Somebody once said that there were fewer bureaucrats in the European Commission than in Surrey County Council. One wonders what on earth they are doing the whole time concocting such regulations.

As I understand it, it is the stated policy of the Government that products may be legitimately brought to the market provided they are safe and properly labelled. The directive runs strictly counter to that. Why have the Government accepted the situation?

There is a way round, as has been pointed out. Dossiers can be compiled for submission to the European Union Scientific Committee for Food by 2005, but that is expensive. Until the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, spoke, I had not realised that the cost of doing it would be between 80,000 and 250,000. It costs a huge sum of money to prepare a dossier to request that what one is presently producing perfectly legally can continue to be produced. Of the 300 products removed by the regulations, only about 15 are having dossiers put forward.

I find these regulations amazing and pointless. What have the Government been doing for the past six years? They always say that they are in favour of consumers, but why have they not been looking after the interests of the United Kingdom? Last week, Her Majesty's Government announced a monumental reform of the common agricultural policy, but said that France—typically—had been excluded. Why can we not be excluded from a poor directive such as this about food supplements? If the French Government can do it, why cannot the British Government? I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, will use his great might to ensure that that happens. But there is an alternative.

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My noble friend is quite right to suggest taking the regulations away and renegotiating them. They have no advantage for Britain; they have no advantage for consumers; and they will damage our industry and the freedom of people to take safe supplements when they wish to do so.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on bringing forward this Motion today. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said that one must be aware of the potentially dangerous consequences of our agreeing to this Motion. I suggest that there are other potential dangers in the steady bureaucratisation and over-regulation of life which many people feel is in train. In the European Union last year, there were more than 4,000 separate directives and regulations. On occasion, there really is a tendency for the issue of safety to be carried to an extent and degree which undermines the reasonable freedom and liberty of individuals to make decisions for themselves.

Lord Turnberg: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that it is important for the public to be aware of exactly what it is that they are taking, the safety profiles, and the potential benefits or otherwise of them?

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I do indeed agree but I believe that the Motion takes account of those matters in a proportionate way. We have here yet another example of an EU sledgehammer to crack a nut. I shall be very interested to hear from the Minister how many products are off the list. Is it 270, or more or fewer? My suspicion is that if the large pharmaceutical companies had had a great interest in the matters being discussed today, we would not be facing this kind of regulation. Tobacco and alcohol are freely—rightly—available substances which can cause mayhem with people's lives and health. I wonder whether we are not perhaps being a little out of kilter in the way in which we are dealing with some of these traditional medicines.

Do not let us make any mistake; this will hit the small shop and will decimate yet another domestic industry in the way that others have been previously. I believe that the measures suggested in the Motion will be quite enough. Does the Minister have any statistics on the number of deaths and serious incapacities that have been caused by the products that are subject to this new regime? Unless he can give noble Lords a fairly striking statistic, he will fail to win round those who have a degree of open-mindedness about this issue—I still do. One of the few herbal products that I know has damaging results, which comes from a Chinese herb, is aristolochia which apparently can reduce hereditary Members of the House to silence. But that is the only one I have managed to track down.

I should also like to know what are the estimated costs of compliance? Has there been a cost-benefit analysis? If so, with what result?

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Finally, from where will people who currently use these traditional herbal medicines get their supplies in future? Will it be a criminal offence to obtain them from outside the European Union?

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I stand before the House today as an example of what vitamins and minerals can do for one. When I first suffered from organophosphate poisoning, I developed intolerances to standard drugs and to many foods. I had great difficulty in surviving; I was a very sick person. I was given very high doses of vitamins and minerals—admittedly under medical supervision.

The blurb that goes with the directive and the statutory instrument states that vitamins and minerals will be available to medical practitioners to prescribe to their patients. They will not be. Manufacturers rely greatly upon over-the-counter sales of their products. Anyone who has any idea about business will know that if the turn-over of a product falls below a certain level it will no longer be produced. This will happen to vitamins and minerals, some of which were listed by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. I am grateful to the noble Earl for bringing this matter to our attention.

I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, who referred to the rigorous testing of drugs. How is it then that, I understand, some 40,000 people a year die from adverse drug reactions? How is it that 40 per cent of people over 65 in hospital are there as a result of adverse drug reactions? If rigorous testing produces that result, heaven help us with minerals and vitamins.

This is about trade. It has nothing to do with consumer safety or anything else; it is purely and simply about trade and the restriction of trade by certain interest groups. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that the major manufacturers are not involved. They are. They are up to their necks and beyond in it. This is where the problems arise. They do not like the business that the small manufacturers have. We have seen this happen over and over again in this field.

The noble Lord also mentioned herbal medicines. We are not talking about herbal medicines today, but about vitamins and minerals. But I have no doubt that we shall go on to herbal medicines.

I am concerned about the parameters used to determine safe levels. The recently published report, Safe Upper Levels for Vitamins and Minerals, from the expert group on that subject states:

    "The determination of Safe Upper Limits and Guidance levels entails the determination of doses of vitamins and minerals that potentially susceptible individuals could take daily on a life-long basis without medical supervision in reasonable safety".

"Potentially susceptible individuals"? The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, referred to a number of his patients. Is everyone else to be prevented from having these food supplements? Thousands of people benefit from them every day even if they have only a placebo affect. If they think they are doing them good, does it

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matter? They are not knocking on the doors of doctors' surgeries; but if we take many of these supplements off the list, they will be.

The House knows that I keep animals. I know that our animals suffer from a selenium deficiency because our land is deficient in selenium. I know, too, that in order to make selenium work you have to have vitamin E with it. My goats, for example, have a tiny dose of vitamin E and selenium twice a year, which keeps them fit. They have wonderful pregnancies with very few delivery problems. They are good, fit and healthy goats. If I did not give them selenium and vitamin E they would have staring coats and they would have problems with birthing. These things happen.

We do not know enough about what vitamins and minerals do to humans because the research has not been carried out. To take them away from us now would be a grave error. I ask the Minister to listen to the noble Earl, Lord Howe—to take note and to do what he asks.

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