Food supplements sold in the UK have to comply with almost 20 categories of food law (with some categories containing a number of laws’, in addition to many laws relating to specific ingredients.
If you are a consumer or a retailer, you do not need to know all of these laws to be able to check whether the food supplement you want to buy or sell is safe and legal. There are seven easy steps that you can take to check compliance of a food supplement and for the first three, you do not even need access to a computer! If the food supplement does not comply with the first three points, then it is probable that there may be other concerns relating to that product. If you have a bit more time and access to the internet, you can make a further four checks.
If a food supplement does not appear to meet the requirements highlighted in the seven easy steps, then you should consider purchasing an alternative food supplement product. If you are a retailer, you should make further enquiries before agreeing to place that food supplement product on your shelf or internet site.
If a product is labelled as ‘Dietary Supplement’, it is non-compliant.
- All food supplements must be labelled with ‘Food Supplement’.
If the product lists the vitamins, minerals and/or other active substances under ‘Supplement Facts’ or a similar heading, but then follows this by ‘Other ingredients’, listing only the carriers and other food additives etc., it is non-compliant.
- All ingredients (including the active ingredients, e.g. vitamins, minerals, fish oil, glucosamine, botanicals – plant ingredients – etc.) must be listed under the heading ‘Ingredients’ in descending order by weight of input.
- Active ingredients must be quantified separately under an appropriate heading, e.g. Nutrition Information or Supplement Facts, or within the ingredients list itself (though this is uncommon and only accepted in rare circumstances).
If the quantity of vitamins A, D or E is given solely or principally as ‘IU’, it is non-compliant.
- The quantity of these vitamins must be stated on food supplement labels using the applicable units:
- vitamin A ‘µg RE’; vitamin D ‘µg’; vitamin E ‘mg α-TE’
- Although the voluntarily declaration of quantity in IU may sometimes be provided, this must not take priority.
ALL ingredients (including the active ingredients, e.g. vitamins, minerals, fish oil, glucosamine, botanicals – plant ingredients – etc) must be listed under the heading ‘Ingredients’ in descending order by weight of input. Active ingredients must be quantified either separately under an appropriate heading (eg. Nutrition Information or Supplement Facts) or within the ingredients list itself.
Are they safe and legal?
Some food supplements have been carefully designed to provide additional support to your diet when you are trying to lose weight, complementing a reduced-calorie, balanced diet, especially when you are also trying to increase your exercise and aiming for a healthy lifestyle.
However, there are some products that promise ‘quick fat loss’ and similar claims. Such products are not always food supplements and some are not legal under any UK laws.
- Read the Medicines Agency (MHRA) information on slimming pills and ‘fast weight loss’ products at ‘Dying to lose weight’.
- Read the Food Standards Agency information on DNP at ‘Help us prevent another DNP death’.