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Why is Natural Healthcare So at Risk?

by Dr Robert Verkerk(more info)

listed in brexit and eu directives, originally published in issue 103 - September 2004

Origins

Natural healthcare, which includes the multitude of approaches of health management that involve the use of natural products, has been around for thousands of years. Natural healthcare tools have included the use of foods, herbs and remedies derived from nature, and their use has evolved independently in diverse cultures using both anecdote and experimentation. These forms of healthcare have generally appreciated the important association between mind and body, and they more often than not have sought to work harmoniously with metabolic and energetic processes in the body, appreciating that restoration of health most importantly requires the re-establishment of 'balance' in bodily processes.

Allopathic healthcare, on the other hand, the system of healthcare that is based on the use of medicines often derived from biologically altered or synthetic principles, is less than 200 years old. Louis Pasteur, sometimes regarded as the father of modern medicine, put forward the germ theory of disease, which set the foundation for disinfection (antibiotics) and vaccination as keystones for disease management. This can be seen today even in the management of diseases like cancer, where the main allopathic strategies involve targeting the disease, akin to an infection, using highly toxic chemicals (chemotherapy) or radiation (radiotherapy). It can be argued that it was around the time of Pasteur that the traditional systems of healthcare and modern medicine started to diverge, as allopathic practitioners considered disease primarily as a form of scourge that came from without, rather than as a problem that developed from within as a result of internal imbalances.[1]

Contemporary 'complementary', alternative' or 'holistic' forms of healthcare are extensions of traditional systems, but they benefit from the combined knowledge gained across a wide range of cultures and they are increasingly subject to refinement following modern experimental research and development methods. These approaches are sometimes compatible with allopathic medicine and, where such compatibility occurs, the system of healthcare is sometimes referred to as 'integrated'. Interestingly, reflecting on a parallel, it is noteworthy that 'integrated agriculture', which draws on a combination of traditional and non-chemical methods as well as on modern agricultural systems with the aim of generating more sustainable systems of farming, has become widely accepted as the key way forward in agriculture. In healthcare, there has been much greater resistance to integration and the pressure from legislation, that is at risk of making many complementary practices illegal, is probably the single greatest opposing factor. Again, using the above analogy, it would be akin to seeing dramatic legislative pressure against organic farming. Let us now take a closer look at these legislative pressures on so-called 'complementary' approaches to healthcare.

European Union (EU) legislation

Whether you live in the UK, or another part of the EU, or even another part of the world, EU legislation is probably the single most important sector of legislation set to affect your ability to practice natural healthcare. This is because EU legislation, that will directly affect 450 million citizens that populate the newly expanded union of 25 Member States, is being looked to as the template for future harmonized legislation worldwide. It is now becoming the template for international guidelines that are being developed through a key organ of the United Nations, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the subject of my next column.

There is a rash of EU Directives that have been or are soon to be promulgated. The Food Supplements Directive, the Human Medicinal Products (Pharmaceuticals) Directive, the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive, the Sports Nutrition Directive and the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulations are some of the most important pieces of EU legislation. Between them, if they are not positively shaped, challenged or contested, they will seriously compromise our ability to deploy natural therapies in the manner we have been accustomed to. Key sectors of the industry, especially those at the innovative edge, are likely to collapse if the legislation goes through in its initially proposed form. It goes without saying that a large number of US products will no longer be able to be sold in Europe.

In the present column, we will examine the 'Big Daddy' of the Directives, the Food Supplements Directive, since this is the first of the Directives to come into force and it will act as a key precedent for the other directives. It is also the subject of two legal challenges, one by the Alliance for Natural Health (of which I am the Executive Director), which represents innovators, practitioners and consumers across Europe, and a second by two UK trade associations, the National Association of Health Stores and the Health Food Manufacturers Association.

The Food Supplements Directive

Designed to harmonize legislation between the different EU Member States, which have long had very different national regimes for supplements, this piece of legislation is set to potentially devastate our access to natural and effective food supplement products. Many European countries, such as Germany, France, Greece, Spain, Italy and Denmark, have long regarded any supplement that contains vitamins or minerals at dosages more than one to three times the Recommended Daily Allowance as medicines. In other countries, like the UK and Holland, a food supplement has always been a category of food, unless delivered at extremely high dosages. So, under the premise of harmonizing legislation to facilitate trade in the single EU market, the EU has delivered a directive which tightly controls the supplements we are allowed to use. It has become more a health measure than a harmonizing measure, and this is just one aspect that we are challenging in the European Court. The two most problematic aspects of the Directive are:

1. Positive lists which include the ingredients allowed in food supplements. Under this regime, any previous clearance that the UK or Dutch food standards authorities might have allowed will be lost, despite the fact that these national authorities are probably best positioned to determine the health status of their own populations. Positive lists have initially only been formulated for vitamins and minerals, and currently contain only 120 out of 300 or so vitamin and mineral forms presently available on the UK market.

Most importantly, the lists tend to omit the natural vitamin complexes and food-form minerals that are so important for our health, as demonstrated by a large body of published science. The lists favour synthetic vitamins and inorganic minerals, the mainstay of products available EU-wide in supermarkets and pharmacies. The Directive does provide a facility to derogate use of existing products until December 2009, but this involves submission of detailed technical dossiers that is financially beyond the reach of many of the smaller manufacturers and suppliers who have interests in leading-edge products. Many companies fear that even if they are able to survive the ban on off-list ingredients, set to come in to force on 1 August 2005, they will not be able to survive further restrictions on other nutrients such as amino acids, essential fatty acids, phytonutrients, enzymes, pro- / pre-biotics, etc. set to come into force in a few years time;

2. The Directive will limit the allowed doses of nutrients, initially vitamins and minerals. Once again, the problem is that the maximum permitted doses are likely to be much lower than those available presently in the UK for nutrients like Vitamins C, D and beta-carotene. The European Food Safety Authority is in the process of developing Upper Safe Levels, and these will be moderated to maximum permitted levels using 'risk factors.' The approach is flawed2 as it relies on the most conservative science (which itself may be flawed), it is based on the most susceptible population ual requirements are known to vary greatly), and it relies on the least safe nutrient form for a given nutrient group.

We, at the Alliance for Natural Health, are submitting our case, challenging the ban on numerous nutrient forms, to the European Court of Justice on 2 August. The result – one way or another – will dramatically influence our ability to manage our health using nutrients. For more information, please visit our website at: www.alliance-natural-health.org.

References

1. See Pearson RB. The Dream and Lie of Louis Pasteur, Sumeria (originally titled Pasteur, Plagiarist, Imposter, 1942) 2001, for an account of how Pasteur's views were perhaps misplaced, and how modern medicine might have evolved very differently had it been influenced by the science of one of Pasteur's contemporaries, Professor Antoine Bechamp (web version of book: www.sumeria.net/dream.html).
2. For further information, refer to the ANH response to the UK Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals: see www.alliance-natural-health.org/index.cfm? Action=archive&categoryID=3.

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About Dr Robert Verkerk

Robert Verkerk BSc MSc DIC PhD FACN Founder, Executive & Scientific Director of Alliance for Natural Health. For over three decades, Rob Verkerk has developed an intimate relationship with the tightropes that span between science and law, between academia and industry, between government and the people — and not least — between humanity’s internal and external environments. He has Masters and Doctorate degrees from Imperial College London, where he also worked as a postdoctoral research fellow for 7 years. In 2002, Dr Verkerk founded the Alliance for Natural Health International (ANH-Intl) and has acted as its executive and scientific director since this time. He has directed legal actions to protect the right to natural health and campaigned against drinking water fluoridation and genetically modified crops. He has also been instrumental in exposing the limitations of classical risk analysis as applied by government authorities to foods and natural health products and he is a recognised pioneer in the development of novel, scientifically rational risk/benefit analysis approaches. He is also the scientific director of ANH-USA. Dr Verkerk has authored some 60 papers in scientific journals and conference proceedings and contributes regularly to magazines and other popular media. He is an accomplished and inspirational speaker and communicator on a wide range of issues relating to sustainability in healthcare, agriculture, food quality and related fields. Dr Verkerk may be contacted on Tel: 01483 362200; info@anhinternational.org or www.anhinternational.org/

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