Non-compliant supplements: Majority of online retailers fall foul of EU regulations

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26 Feb 2018 --- A majority of online traders recently surveyed by the European Commission are offering novel foods and food supplements that clearly do not comply with EU regulations. This is according to the results of the first coordinated official controls of Internet marketed foods carried out by 25 EU Member States, Switzerland and Norway. Nearly 1,100 websites were checked for certain products which are non-compliant with EU food legislation. More specifically, the investigation mainly focused on four non-authorized novel foods and food supplements bearing medicinal claims, namely Agmatine (4 aminobutyl) guanidine sulfate, Acacia rigidula, Epimedium grandiflorum and Hoodia gordonii

Of the websites surveyed, 779 were found to be offering products not complying with the EU legislation, whether in terms of labeling, false claims or lack of authorization, according to the European Commission.

The authorities of 25 EU Member States plus Switzerland and Norway participated on a voluntary basis in the check. 

According to the report, offers for the products in question came mostly from traders based in the country of the respective authority (65 percent), but also from traders located in other EU Member States (20 percent) or third countries, namely the US and China (15 percent).

In its report, the Commission notes that “the high percentage of non-compliant offers is a clear sign that the eCommerce control today needs to be strengthened.”

It further adds that a number of actions have been taken to support Member States' competent authorities in the task of eCommerce control. These actions include the training of staff in online investigations; establishing contact points for cooperation with major trading e-platforms and market places including social media; seeking cooperation with payment service providers and adjusting legislation and electronic reporting systems to the needs of official eCommerce control.

“However, further efforts are necessary, in particular, to remind the main players of eCommerce such as platforms, payment services and the traders themselves of their responsibilities, to ask for their contributions to increase the safety of online offered foods and to reduce offers which mislead consumers.” 

Although this was not mandatory, the European Commission reports that in about 440 cases, measures were taken with the aim to prevent the sale of such products, including inspection of the traders’ premises, and warnings.

For non-compliant cross-border offers, administrative assistance was requested via the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation IT system (154 cases) and in case of health concerns, notifications were issued via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (139, of which 51 were notified to the US and China).

The Commission issued a Recommendation in 2017 calling for the establishment of a coordinated control plan to encourage Member States to strengthen eCommerce controls and to cooperate more closely on cross-border offers of products. 

The objectives of the plan were to encourage Member States to become more engaged in the control of the e-commerce food market, to cooperate more closely on non-compliant cross-border offers and to use for this cooperation the available IT systems. 

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