Fortification to come under EU law

Related tags European commission European union

The European Commission yesterday published a proposal for
regulation of the addition of vitamins, minerals and other
substances to foods, designed to allow free trade of fortified
foods in the European community.

The European Commission yesterday published a proposal for regulation of the addition of vitamins, minerals and other substances to foods, designed to allow free trade of fortified foods in the European community.

The regulation includes a list of approved vitamins, minerals and other substances that can be added to foods. It is also likely to include a list of substances prohibited from foods. A preliminary draft of the regulation listed kava, nicotine and St John's wort under this category, while both taurine and guarana were classified as 'under community scrutiny'. These suggestions have been removed from the published proposal.

The Commission's basic impact assessment declares that the regulation will offer industry room for innovation and competition at an international level. It will also allow monitoring of fortified foods and the possibility to take action if a fortified food poses risk to consumer health.

The food industry voiced strong support for the regulation. The European Breakfast Cereal Association (CEEREAL), which has long argued in favour of a harmonised legal framework for fortified foods, welcomed the proposal. The addition of vitamins and minerals to breakfast cereals has been carried out for several decades and the regulation will allow manufacturers to respond to consumer demand across the EU.

The CIAA (Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU) called the proposal "a positive step toward the creation of a real single market for fortified foods".

"The forthcoming regulation on the addition of vitamins and minerals to foods should encourage research and innovation efforts in the food and drink industry to enable it to better respond to evolving lifestyles and allow all Europeans to benefit from this,"​ said Jean Martin, president of the CIAA​.

The proposal has been extended to include 'other substances' often added to food - such as herbal extracts, proteins and amino acids - which would be assessed for safety by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the independent scientific body which advises the European Commission. This however caused concern for the CIAA.

"Even though the CIAA is aware of the need to establish a legalframeworkfor all other substances, it fears that the extension of the text toothersubstances could hold up harmonisation for the addition of vitaminsandminerals, given the legal instruments and authorisation procedures areinessence very different,"​ the association noted in a release.

David Byrne, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, pointed to the safety to be guaranteed by the new laws but a reference to vitamin overdose in the Commission release grabbed media attention in the Netherlands. National papers focused on his example of large amounts of vitamin A, not recommended for pregnant women or people with liver disease.

"The Dutch media leapt on this occasion to present the dangers of vitamins and also confused vitamins used for fortification with supplements. We have issued information to clear this confusion up,"​ said Andrea Vuuren from the Netherlands Natural Health Products Association.

The proposed regulation will also set the criteria for establishing minimum and maximum levels for the different nutrients added to food. These levels would be set by the European Commission and government experts in the framework of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health based on independent scientific advice provided by EFSA. For the sake of transparency, a 'Community Register' will be established and regularly updated with permitted vitamins and levels.

All foods with added nutrients will be required to be labelled, increasing the information currently available to consumers about their nutritional value. Foods will also be subjected to the same nutritional profiling described in the forthcoming health claims regulation.This means that foods not considered 'healthy' can not be fortified with nutrients. Numerous groups reacted to this in the health claims proposal, including CIAA and the British Nutrition Foundation. Further clarification will be necessary on this issue.

"Such restrictions are based on health considerations like the increasing incidence of obesity and of other chronic diseases for which diet is emerging as a very important factor. However they concern a very limited number of products to which vitamins and minerals are added today,"​ noted the Commission's impact assessment.

It continued that food manufacturers are aware of their important role in shaping dietary habits of the population and are expected to adapt to such regulation.

Fortification would not be permitted in foods considered to pose a risk to consumers, such as alcoholic drinks, and nutrients cannot be added to fresh food such as fruit, vegetables or meat.

The proposal also covers replacement of nutrients lost during storage and manufacturing or production of substitute foods such as margarine.

The first reading by the European Parliament will take place next spring, with regulation likely to come into effect at least two years later.

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