Ireland's rejection of the European Union Lisbon Treaty has strengthened the resolve of the country's independent health store retailers as well as food supplement manufacturers and wholesalers in their campaign against EU regulations.
The Irish Association of Health Stores (IAHS) has for many years been campaigning against what it perceives as "highly restrictive" laws that have been implemented - or are in the process of being implemented - across the 27-member state bloc in regard to food supplement and functional foods.
These regulations and directives cover health claims, permitted ingredients and dosage levels as well as classification between medicinal and non-medicinal products such as botanical and food supplements products.
Many in industry see them as draconian or unworkable or both.
Just say no
IAHS president Jill Bell told NutraIngredients.com that the Irish no vote in the referendum held on Thursday, while not directly relevant to the nutrition industry, demonstrated the majority of the Irish population opposed further centralisation of laws in Europe.
A majority of 53.6 per cent of Irish voters rejected the Treaty, with 46.4 per cent voting in favour. It is due to be ratified on January 1, 2009.
"Nobody knows what is going to happen - whether there will be a re-run but this vote shows people agree with the kind of campaign we have been running to try and protect our industry and consumer choice from the damage that some of these European laws are having," Bell said.
Others across Europe who back the IAHS's position will be buoyed by calls for referendums in other member states such as the UK.
"The overall message to Europe is to back off and that can only help our cause," she added. "This adds to the considerable unease that industry and consumers have been registering in regard to some of the laws that have been written. This would have been a significant factor in deciding the vote because our industry's concerns would have added to the mainstream concerns and doubts."
An IAHS-prompted petition that garnered 60,000+ signatures of or 1.5 per cent of the Irish population had been deemed admissible by an EU committee in December, and had been passed to the European Commission for consideration.
The EC had given no indication when or how it might respond to the petition.
Bell said the fact Ireland had rejected Lisbon would add strength to the petition and said the Irish industry was ready to take the fight against the implementation of the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) and other European directives and regulations to the European Court of Justice if need be.
"Many retailers, manufacturers and distributors face ruin if the directives go through in their current for," she said. "But it is the restriction on consumer choice that really keeps us awake at night."
Groups across Europe and abroad had registered their support for the IAHS position including the Alliance for Natural Health and Zeus Information in the UK, the Alliance for Health, Peace and Social Justice in Germany, La Leva di Archimede in Italy and the National Health Federation in the US.