Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Denmark, Marmite, And The Future Of Hysterical EU Health Policy

I see that the Guardian's model high tax, high control, low freedom state has blotted its copybook in the minds of Brits by banning Marmite. Unilaterally too, I might add, which would appear to fly in the face of everything the EU holds dear. 'Appear to' being the operative words but I'll get to that later.

There's been plenty tongue-in-cheek jingoistic talk of tit-for-tat bans on bacon and blue cheese, along with other arguers who scoff at the paltry sales of Marmite in Denmark and thus dismiss this as a non-story.

It's certainly nothing of the sort, and far from being a laughing matter, it's very sinister.

You see, we've seen products being vilified for their individual health risk before - just think tobacco, alcohol, salt etc. - but the Danish ban is based on an over-weening fear of risk accumulation. No-one, not even panic-stricken Danish health authorities, are suggesting that Marmite is a health danger in itself. It's the fact that it could be consumed by people who also get the same nutrients elsewhere.

Denmark's submission to a 2006 EU consultation on vitamin and mineral limits in foods explains this perfectly.

As it cannot be excluded that some consumers both take food supplements and prefer fortified foods maximum amounts must be set for both categories. For safety reasons it should be avoided to use up to the [Upper Limit] twice. One simple way to address this issue is to use the Danish model for setting safe amounts of added nutrients to foods [...] and set the maximum level in supplements equal to the reference labelling value (RLV). Food supplements containing 100% of RLV are included in the Danish model.
In other words, because some people are assiduous in maintaining their vitamin levels by way of supplements, everyone should be denied products which pose no threat whatsoever on their own. Ironically, Marmite ads such as the one above extolling the healthy nature of their product merely highlight to Denmark why it must be prohibited.

This is a whole different ball game. The thrust of it being that you don't need these added vitamins, so they must be banned for the good of those who are, yes, too health-conscious.

The archetypal 'you just can't win' scenario.

But why is Denmark so afeared of products like Marmite? Probably because their citizens are unusually prolific consumers of vitamin and mineral supplements (because they are indoctrinated by an unusually health-obsesive government, perchance?). The fact that there are a miniscule number of Danes who would even think of trying Marmite - according to those non-story advocates who point to only one shop selling the stuff, and even then only to ex-pat Brits - means nothing. Banned it must be.

Rules is rules. No exceptions in socialist control utopia. Common sense is so last century. What a great country, eh? The Guardian is so right, we really must strive to be like them.

But then, we may not have to. Denmark is pushing for an EU-wide limit on acceptable levels of vitamins in foods based on their own hysterical standards. And considering the EU's past record of opting for the most draconian of measures for even the most inconsequential of risks, they'll probably get there in the end.

The growing up spread had better get ready for battling against enforced shrinking sales.


Anonymous said...

In the normal course of day to day events, people will eat stuff which contains more vitamins of one sort or another than their bodies actually need. So what happens to the excess vitamins? In the case of salt, the human body excretes the surplus. Is that also true of vitamins? If not, then what actually happens? Where do the excess vitamins go? And, has there ever been any actual record of any harm anyway? Or is it some epidemiological study which 'suggests' the possibility of some undefined harm?

These questions need to be answered since the smoking ban was promoted and put into effect on the basis of just such evidence.

Anonymous said...


Water-based vitamins, such as the B vitamins and Vitamin C, are excreted from the body in the same way as other water-soluble substances are such as - as you point out - salt. Oil-based vitamins, such as Vitamin A, are stored in the body.

Side effects from an "overdose" of the water-soluble vitamins are negligible at best and certainly not life-threatening or severe because they are only in the body for such a short time. At worst, they range from slight nausea, temporary skin rashes or mild urinary discomfort.

Side effects from a build-up of oil-based vitamins are fractionally more severe although even these only manifest after very, very high dosages or after long-term, regular exposure which results in a cumulative build-up of the vitamin. Probably most people have heard the stories of the health problems experienced by arctic explorers after eating the livers of killed polar bears; probably rather fewer of those who know the story also know that the amount of Vitamin A stored in the liver of the average polar bear is many hundreds of times greater than the quantities that most people would experience in the average lifetime.

Artificially-produced Vitamin A, such as is found in supplements, is slightly more toxic than the kind which occurs naturally, for example, in leafy green veg, and again this tends to be the case more because of the long-term regularity of dosage rather than because it is in and of itself a particularly toxic chemical.

In short, it's a storm in a teacup - just the kind of scare, in fact, which the EU really loves, and to which it will, no doubt, respond with its usual knee-jerk over-reaction

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, there was a vitamin scare in 2008.

Official health warning on risk of vitamin supplements - 2008

"The review of 67 studies involving more than 230,000 people is republished today by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organisation for evidence-based research. The review found no evidence that the nutrition supplements extend life. On the contrary, vitamins A and E and beta carotene appear to slightly increase premature death rates among those taking them. Vitamin C and selenium have no effect.

When the different antioxidants were assessed separately, trials with a low risk of bias were included and selenium excluded, vitamin A was linked to a 16 per cent increased risk of dying prematurely, beta-carotene to a 7 per cent increased risk and vitamin E to a 4 per cent increased risk. However, there was no significant detrimental effect caused by vitamin C."

Vitamin supplements may increase risk of death

Vitamin pills 'increase risk of early death'

Health supplements: R.I.P - 2002

"Drug companies have a proven track record in trying to legislate the natural health business out of existence. In 1996, for example, the Ecologist magazine revealed that, when the Codex Alimentarius (the World Trade Organisation body that sets international standards for drugs, food, supplements, etc) met, the German delegation put forward a proposal, sponsored by three German pharmaceutical firms, that no herb, vitamin or mineral should be sold for preventive or therapeutic reasons, and that supplements should be reclassified as drugs."

Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on the Tolerable Upper Intake Level of Nicotinic Acid and Nicotinamide (Niacin)

10mg per day.


Dick Puddlecote said...

Thanks for that analysis, Anon. Very interesting. :)

Bucko said...

Didn't the Marmite ban turn out to be incorrect reporting.
Wasn't it just some kind of paperwork error?

Shinar's Basket Case said...

AS far as I know, Marmite (or Vegamite) is the stable foodstuff of another health crazed nation ie 'Oz'.

Can we assume there will be plain packaging for vegamite in the near future?

Will no one think of the children??!

Dick Puddlecote said...

Bucko: Yes, read that today. Something about the need to apply for a licence to sell fortified foods. The old 'you can't do anything unless you pay us for the rule we set up' trick, known in every other circle as blackmail.

Of course, they could apply for the licence and pay the fee, but not be approved. Taking money without giving anything back is usually called theft.

The state turns natural law, and vocab, on its head.

Bucko said...

Dick - Point taken :-)

Mark Wadsworth said...

F- em.

It's time we started a trade war and refused to sell Marmite to them, that'll teach them who's boss.

English Pensioner said...

Its the same as the hysteria over salt. Having recently had a blood test, my GP has discovered that I am low on Sodium, which was probably the cause of my problem at the time. When I pushed him for why low salt diets are recommended, the most that I could get was "There are some possible indications in some research that excess salt may possibly be the cause of increased blood pressure". Somewhat different from what all the anti-salt in food campaigners are saying! The Government is spending huge sums of money to stop something that "may possibly" cause a problem.

George Speller said...

The only way out is UKIP

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info, Anon 02;04.

So where in the body is excess vit A stored? Is it in fat? Your story about the polar bear suggests that the liver is one such place.

Interesting how polar bears can tolerate such large amounts. Does that suggest that humans can also tolerate large amounts? What level is intolerable?

The more you hear, the less convincing the 'health professionals' become!

Anonymous said...


Yes, it is stored mainly in and around the liver although some can be stored in the fat surrounding other internal organs. Exact amounts required and deemed to be the maximum safe level vary and there is some debate as to the correct figures, but it’s generally thought that the maximum safe level is somewhere between about 2500 and 3000 micrograms for adults, with the best level being around a quarter to a third of that amount. But these aren’t hard and fast figures and they vary somewhat according to a person’s stage of life, physical condition/individual ailments and lifestyle factors etc. Generally speaking, most generally healthy, meat-and-fish-eating adults with a decent, balanced, varied diet will get an adequate supply without needing supplements. Vegetarians or vegans may need to make sure that they get plenty of the A-providing veg to top up the supply that they aren’t getting from meat/fish/dairy, and I guess it’s possible that really fussy vegetarians or vegans who don’t like the A-providing veg could potentially need supplements. But generally speaking a decent diet (carnivorous or otherwise) will provide most people with what they need.

Quite why polar bears have such a high concentration without any side effects I don’t know, but I’d guess it might well be something to do with having an adequate supply to see them through their long hibernation periods, or maybe because it is hard to come by in their diet so they’ve evolved to keep more of it without harm to their systems as a standby supply. Not sure. But then all mammals have evolved slightly differently - a bit like rabbits have to have an appendix stuffed full of active bacteria to survive, whereas ours long ago lost its function and divested itself of its own gut fauna, such that if any gets into it now we get very sick. Maybe one of the zoologist readers on here might be able to enlighten us!