Taoiseach corrects himself after calling food supplements ‘snake oil’

Varadkar says some products have proven benefits but that buyers should beware

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar corrected himself in the Dáil shortly after he criticised food supplements as ‘snake oil’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar corrected himself in the Dáil shortly after he criticised food supplements as ‘snake oil’. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar corrected himself in the Dáil shortly after he criticised food supplements as “snake oil” that only cost people money and rarely did anything for health.

He said it should be “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) when it came to such supplements.

However, Mr Varadkar later said “I may have done a disservice to the food supplement industry” and that while many food supplements had no proven benefit, “some of course do”.

The Taoiseach had been responding to Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae who said the Vat rate was going from 0 per cent to 23 per cent at the end of the month on food supplements including vitamins, minerals and health supplements in general.

He said such a large increase in a single move was “totally outrageous” and would affect businesses. “It is also going to affect the health of people who rely on natural methods in order to stay healthy.”

Mr Varadkar said he would have to ask the Minister for Finance to respond to Mr Healy-Rae, and that the move was probably “an adjudication under the EU Vat directive rather than a decision of Government”.

‘Cost you money’

He said that “when it comes to food supplements, my advice is caveat emptor. Food supplements very rarely do anything for our health. They’re mostly snake oil and just cost you money.”

A short time later while responding to question about funding for research and development, Mr Varadkar said “I fear I may have done a disservice to the food supplement industry.

“I should rephrase. Instead of saying very rarely, I should say many food supplements have no proven health benefits but some, of course, do.”

Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless said that during Science Week “it’s okay to say these kinds of things”.

The Taoiseach responded: “On that one, trust the science not the stuff on the label.”

Leas-Cheann Comhairle Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher said “the Taoiseach’s clarity has been recorded”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin then quipped: “Does that mean apple cider vinegar doesn’t work?”

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