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from SchNEWS 205, 19 March 1999

"Unless a much bigger international coalition can be formed to save health freedom - we will see it stripped from us as the drug companies play a game called 'boiling the frog slowly'"
- John Hammell (The Life Extension Foundation)

Imagine walking into your local health food shop to get some herbal remedies or vitamin supplements. Well, if certain people get their way you won't be able to.

The Government has been secretly working on a proposal that would give the Medicines Control Agency (MCA) sweeping new powers to classify health products as medicines. Don't be surprised if you don't know anything about this. The government's consultation period wasn't exactly extensive with only a few weeks for objectors to put their side. When SchNEWS decided to have a ring around to find out what people involved with health and medicine reckoned to the proposal, most didn't know what the hell we were talking about (nothing new there then).

Thanks to Britain's membership of the European Union (EU), the only criteria the MCA needs to apply are:
  • Can the product alter physiological function?
  • Is it being used for medicinal purposes?
Seeing as anything you eat or drink has an effect on your body, this covers everything.


Previously a product had to be either unsafe for human consumption, or else its manufacturer had to make false medicinal claims before it could be banned. In theory, under the new EU regulations, even glucose, coffee and brandy could be classified as medicinal. This back-door plan will mean that if small businesses want to license a product they will have to fork out between £80 000, for a single-ingredient product, and £2 million, for a multi-ingredient product in order for them to go through testing procedures. Everything from cancer chemotherapy drugs to simple vitamin preparations would be treated the same.

"Clearly this is but yet the latest stage of a concerted effort by the powerful pharmaceutical industry to halt the growing interest in 'alternative' medicine"
- Ann Wills (British Anti-Vivisection Association)

By restricting what nutritional supplements people can take, the government is telling us that we don't know our own bodies and aren't sussed enough to make decisions about our own health. As Penny Viner of the Health Food Manufacturers Association points out "This proposal will achieve the situation whereby the MCA will be acting as policeman, judge and jury without any checks and balances".

So who the hell are the MCA? They are a QUANGO, funded by taxpayers and run by people appointed by ministers. By 1996 a third of public expenditure (£50billion) and three quarters of civil servants had been quangoed. It's hard to find the status of quangos: they can be Non-Departmental Public Bodies, Next Steps Executive Agencies, private companies, government departments, trusts, public companies, or a mixture of any of these. They can refuse to answer any questions over the phone by hiding behind their protected status and are only in the phone book under their supervising department's name. So here you are: the MCA's phone number is 0171 273 0392.


So is SchNEWS getting its herbal knickers in a twist? To see what will soon happen here we only have to look across the pond to Canada and America where supplements have been withdrawn following similar pressures from the multinational drug companies.

According to Christopher Whitehouse of Consumers for Health Choice "The implications are much more serious... It is not the law that has changed, but that the MCA is saying that it is going to be the most ruthless regulator in Europe"

Oh dear - someone pass us a cup of Camomile tea.

Society for Promotion of Nutritional Therapy
P.O.Box 47, Heathfield, East Sussex TN21 8ZX

Consumers for Health Choice
9 Old Queen St, London SW1H 9JA

What Doctors Don't Tell You
4 Wallace Rd, London N1 2BR

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