The well publicized assault by the EC on vitamins and nutrients which could put the smaller manufacturers out of business is only the first wave of a sustained campaign, we can reveal.
A second European directive is in the wings which will curb the sale of herbal extracts, ginseng and royal jelly.
The argument, already being aired in the US, pivots around the reclassification of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fish liver oils, yeasts and other nutrients as drugs rather than foods.
As foods, they are subject to the minimum of restraints. But as drugs, they will need to be registered and to acquire a product licence before they can be sold. This route is both costly and time consuming, and several industry watchers have said it will be enough to cripple all but the very biggest vitamin manufacturers.
However, the EC has yet to decide just where to draw the line between drugs and foods. The French, for instance, want anything labelled as a drug if the dose exceeds the required daily intake. Should the French win the argument, the British health food manufacturers will be the major losers. Their goods are sold in greater quantities as foods in British shops than almost anywhere else in the EC.
Ostensibly, the draft directive, which should be published early next year, is merely being drawn up to help remove barriers to trade in the single European markets.
But it is part of a general wave which is already sweeping the US. There, the Food and Drug Administration is proposing to reclassify vitamin and mineral preparations as drugs and to restrict the sale of herbs. Only substantiated claims made by alternative medicines will be permitted.
Similarly, the EC directive may be less innocuous than the bureaucrats maintain. Already in the wings is a second directive covering herbal extracts, slimming aids, ginseng and royal jelly.
While the British health food manufacturers are lobbying hard, there could be a more powerful lobby at work the drug industry. And guess who stands to win if the directive is passed?