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Preserve Your Right to Supplement

If you regularly surf the Internet for health information, the terms Codex, EU Directive, and Durbin Bill may sound familiar. And, if you have discovered that your health challenges are better supported with a complementary medicine approach, which includes the use of dietary supplements (see "Cinnamon for Spice…Cinnamon for Life" for a perfect case in point), then these legalese terms may have made you bristle. Now, you may not exactly understand the complexities behind or the relationship between these regulations, but you do understand that your right to readily accessible natural supplements is at risk. In keeping with our mission to educate, N.E.E.D.S. would like to take this opportunity to present the facts and your rights as we know them.

The European Union (EU) Directive on Food Supplements is legislation scheduled to go into effect August 2005. This law applies only to supplements sold in Europe, so it will not directly affect American consumers. It will, however, impact U.S. manufacturers who sell their products abroad, severely restricting dietary supplements that can be sold without prescription as well as the maximum dosages allowed in those products. As a result, most products in Europe will be available only by prescription and their costs drastically inflated.

Because of similarities in principles and restrictions, the EU Directive is often confused with the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (WHO) Food Standards, implemented by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, or Codex. Since it's connected to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), Codex is intended to regulate international trade in order to achieve "harmonization." The purpose of Codex is to develop international guidelines governing dietary supplements and to ensure consumer safety. To achieve this purpose, Codex severely narrows the list of available supplements to only those vitamins and minerals with maximum doses not to exceed the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) of those nutrients. You may have noticed that many ingredients listed on labels don't have a RDA, even important nutrients like Co-Q10, lipoic acid, and glutathione. According to Codex, these supplements could be sold only as prescriptions.

Technically, all countries that are members of the WTO are obligated to comply with any of its international laws. However, don't go hoarding your cod liver oil yet. According to provisions made by U.S. Congress, an international law, such as Codex, cannot override U.S. law. Currently, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) governs the industry and protects consumers' access to herbs and vitamins. Meaning, DSHEA overrides Codex and our rights to practice preventative health are protected…at least for the moment.

While this is the case, we shouldn't become complacent. In March 2003, Senator Richard Durbin from Illinois introduced the Durbin Bill (S.722). If passed into law, it would undermine DSHEA by putting the needless burden of proof of supplement safety on manufacturers, rather than the FDA. This would create a huge financial burden for manufacturers. Because their resources are exponentially smaller than those of pharmaceutical companies, many of these manufacturers would no longer be able to operate. And if DSHEA is compromised, it could potentially open the door for Codex to take hold.

For the moment, Bill S. 722 has been sent to committee and not heard from since. But it's still useful to remind your legislators that this bill should not be supported should it turn up again. Place in your favorites folder and check it regularly for updates, explanations on legislation, and the grassroots efforts you can take part in to let your congressional representatives know you want to maintain your right to choose how you care for your health.