News item

Online health and diet supplements fail trading standards tests

Nine health and diet supplements, available to purchase online from UK retailers, failed tests conducted by Warwickshire county council’s trading standards service. 

Achieving weight loss, improving general health and vitality and providing additional vitamins were some of the health related claims made by the companies selling these products, classified as food supplements, not medicines.

However, composition and nutritional tests carried out by the public analyst on behalf of Warwickshire trading standards revealed serious problems with all nine products.

  • All the products tested made health and nutritional claims that could not be substantiated, were unauthorised or were unapproved. Some failed to give appropriate warnings. 
  • Five of the products either gave incorrect or insufficient information about the name of the food or about the characteristics and amounts of vitamins and minerals or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect present in the product.
  •  Six products either gave incorrect information or were missing information such as ingredients listing, name and address details, durability marking, net quantity, storage conditions, nutritional declaration or allergen information.

 Janet Faulkner, head of Warwickshire trading standards said:

 “The online sale of vitamin, nutritional and dietary supplements is a multi-million pound business, but what our survey revealed is that many of the health and nutritional claims these products make have not been proven and should not be made!” 

“There have been a number of cases recently of people being hospitalised after taking supplements that make unsubstantiated health related claims, including a young woman who tragically died after swallowing a number of ‘diet’ pills.”

“Our testing has revealed that consumers of the products we looked at are unlikely to have any idea of what they really contain, how much is safe to take and in what dosage, or what the potential side effects might be.”

In light of recent events and these tests, which revealed a number of breaches of food safety legislation, Warwickshire trading standards is reiterating the following advice, provided by the NHS and other bodies:

  • Before you buy or use a supplement, you should consult your GP. Doctors can offer informed opinion about whether a particular dietary supplement is necessary or advisable.
  • Pharmacists can also offer advice on supplements.
  • If you are going to purchase a supplement, do so from a known reputable retailer.
  • Ensure that any product you take is properly described and includes clear dosage information.
  • Beware particularly of online retailers operating outside the EU and regulatory control. There is a greater risk that these products, in addition to making misleading claims, may also be unsafe or dangerous to consume.

Warwickshire trading standards together with other trading standards services across the UK, has already contacted the sellers of the tested products to provide appropriate advice and/or take further enforcement action.

 Additional information

  1. In 2009, sales of vitamins and dietary supplements in the UK totalled £674.6 million with the two biggest-selling areas being multivitamins (£138.6 million) and fish oils (£139.1 million). Source NHS.
  2. According to research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2008, nearly a third of people in the UK take some vitamin, mineral or dietary supplement on most days.
  3. The vitamin, mineral and dietary supplements tested as part of the trading standards survey are classified as food supplements, not medicines.
  4. Manufacturers, importers and retailers of food supplements have a responsibility to ensure their products are safe and correctly described
  5. Warwickshire county council trading standards service is one of the bodies responsible for enforcing food safety legislation in Warwickshire.

DATE: 28 April 2015