Wed, May 07, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Health department mulls categorizing vitamins as food

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Department of Health said yesterday that it was considering a proposal to categorize multivitamins and other lower-dose vitamins as food.

However, it said that some higher-dose vitamin supplements or those with medical effects still had to be regulated as drugs.

This possible policy change was announced after the department held seminars on Monday and yesterday to discuss the feasibility of the proposal.

Vitamins in Taiwan are regulated as drugs. Because of this, the prices of vitamins are set based on those of drugs, which makes it expensive to buy vitamins in Taiwan.

As a result, many locals purchase vitamins from the US or other countries, where vitamins can be bought at much cheaper prices. The phenomenon makes it difficult for the nation’s health officials to ensure the safety of vitamin use.

The department emphasized yesterday that the proposal requires further deliberation.

“We need to hear from both experts and the pharmaceutical companies,” Bureau of Food Sanitation director Cheng Huei-wen (鄭慧文) said. “It will take a while before we can finalize any of the details.”

Cheng said the department is concerned that a lot of fake vitamins will penetrate the market once the policy takes effect. He said the department plans to promulgate the new rules governing the use of vitamins within about six months.

Cheng said that individuals can import vitamins from other countries for personal use, either in tablet form or capsule. Each person can bring in a maximum of 12 bottles, with the contents not exceeding 2,400 tablets or capsules.

However, if a certain vitamin is listed as a drug in the country it was imported from, the amount cannot exceed 1,200 tablets in total. Should the amount go beyond 1,200, the importer needs to file applications with the department, he said.

Liao Chi-chou (廖繼洲), director general of the Bureau of Pharmaceutical Affairs, said the vitamins that would be categorized as drugs include fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and folic acids.

An overdose of these vitamins can damage one’s health, he said.

“The retail price of vitamins may drop because of this measure,” he said, “but this will be determined through market mechanisms, as the department has no means to interfere.”

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