Albion Monitor /Commentary

Vitamins by Prescription Only

by John Hammell

Proposal to limit vitamins by RDA dosages

Ron Birckhead has seen the future, and it looks like this: Vitamins are illegal, unless you have a doctor's prescription. The only dietary suppliments that you can buy off the shelves contain only RDA amounts -- 60 mg of vitamin C, 15 mg of vitamin E, and so on.

Impossible? Not at all. That's the current situation in Norway, where Birckhead is a vitamin distributor. There, vitamin C above 200 mg is illegal. The Norwegian FDA attempted to incarcerate Birckhead for importing vitamin C and vitamin E powder. He fought back and won, but other battles loom.

But Norway's nightmare may be coming to other countries -- including the United States. In October, the World Trade Organization (WTO) will meet in Germany to vote on just such a proposal. In a nutshell, the German delegate to a joint UN/WHO commission called the Codex Alimentarius Commission has made a draconian proposal that consumer access to dietary supplements be limited to the RDA dosage. Supplements that don't have an RDA, such as coenzyme Q-10, trace minerals, and amino acids would all become drugs.

Previous votes 16-2 and 10- 1 in favor of restricting vitamins

Does the WTO have the clout to enforce such a policy in the United States? It certainly does. On April 29th, Reuters carried an article titled "U.S. Disappointed in Appeal of WTO Gasoline Ruling." In this ruling, the United States is being forced to make changes in our Clean Air Act because an appellate body of the WTO in Geneva found that U.S. clean air gasoline rules discriminate against imports from Venezuela and Brazil.

While this was the first time the WTO has imposed a ruling on the United States, the American public is wrong if it believes that Congress can protect us against the WTO. In the gasoline case, the WTO's three judge appeals panel composed of officials from the Philippines, Japan, and New Zealand upheld the overall ruling that the regulations were "a disguised restriction on international trade" because they set different rules for foreign producers than for domestic refiners.

Thus far, voting within the Codex Commission's Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Use, have gone 16-2, and 10- 1 in favor of the German proposal to restrict vitamins, with only the US and the UK taking a stand against it. (The US and the UK are the world's two largest manufacturers of dietary supplements.)

But WTO member nations such as Togo, in West Africa, have as much voting power on this matter as the United States, and unless we are able to swing enough delegates against the German proposal, the US and UK will be overwhelmingly outvoted by the other 124 WTO member nations.

Why would those other nations vote to restrict vitamins? Mostly because of pressures from pharmaceutical giants such as Shering-Plough, which are making a concerted effort to swing delegates in favor of the German proposal.

Look again to Norway to see what these companies have to benefit. There, Shering-Plough now controls an Echinacea tincture which is being sold as an OTC drug, at grossly inflated prices. The same is true of Ginkgo-Biloba, made by another company. Although both of these herbs are among the few that are still available in Norwegian health food stores, they aren't allowed to make health claims --those can only be made by the OTC drug versions.

In Norway, only companies that employ pharmacists with at least two years of pharmaceutical industry experience have the right to import supplements as medicines which they can sell to health food stores, convenience stores, gas stations, or drug stores. Understand that these products are 1) defined as drugs, 2) only products which are guaranteed not to vary from batch to batch in potency (read: pharmaceutical extracts, not herbs themselves) are allowed to be sold, 3) to get the license to import and distribute that single company had to comply with a raft of regulations inconsistent with the natural foods movement.

Pressure from pharmaceutical, medical industries in the U.S.

There may also be pressure building from within the United States to drop opposition of the German proposal. On the 15th of April, the National Institutes of Health issued a press release which seems intent on directing the public to avoid dietary supplements and to think in terms of a maximum dosage limit for Vitamin C, and by implication other nutrients.

Although it has been widely refuted, they once again dragged out the long discredited assertion that vitamin C causes kidney stones. This fallacious assertion and propaganda of the pharmaceutical industry was first splashed through the media prior to the passage of the Proxmire legislation which protected consumer access to dietary supplements in the 1970's.

Another example happened earlier this month, as Dr. Steven De Felice urged that the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) be amended in order to allow exclusive medical claims to be made on new products in order to provide an incentive for research. He criticizes DSHEA as "not driving research because its too vague." If the law is amended as he wants, consumers will have to pay far more for products and many would not be available without a prescription.

Why is Dr. De Felice making this proposal? Perhaps because he holds the patent on Carnitor, a version of the amino acid l-carnitine. As part of his so-called "Nutraceutical Initiative," De Felice has been holding a series of black-tie events in Washington D.C. in support of his Initiative, which would give companies exclusive rights to sell such nutrients.

Consider what this would mean: Carnitor costs $60.89 for sixty 330 mg tablets. By comparison, a suppliment company sells thirty 600 mg capsules of l-carnitine for $14.63 -- substantially cheaper, and with no difference in quality. And there won't even be another version for sale at any price, if the WTO rules that l-carnitine can be classified as a drug.

Donations sought for "International Health Alliance"

To combat To combat the proposed Codex changes, Birckhead and I have joined forces across the Internet to form the International Health Alliance. We are working closely with Suzanne Harris, JD of the Law Loft of Arcadia, CA. Suzanne is a seasoned veteran and expert on the GATT treaty and is now actively studying Codex issues.

We are badly in need of donations for research and expert legal counsel on this complex issue, and eventually, to conduct a targeted Congressional campaign here in the United States. Most urgently, we need help with transatlantic and transcontinental phone bills. I am also speaking on talk radio and television nationwide, and am always looking for programs where I can appear as a guest to discuss these issues.

My email address is, and more information is available through our web site, You may also call our main office at 800-841-LIFE to request copies of our February and April magazines with articles by Ron and myself about this international threat to health freedom. We need all of your assistance; if you wish to donate to our cause, please write a tax-deductible check to Life Extension Foundation, and send it to: LEF Political Office, 1534 Polk St., Hollywood, FL 33020. Please feel free to repost this article (or the URL, far and wide.

John Hammell is political coordinator for the Life Extension Foundation of Hollywood, Florida, a non-profit, educational organization that sells vitamins and dietary suppliments to the public.

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Albion Monitor May 27, 1996 (

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