The Ministerial Council of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) said it would allow producers to add calcium to fruit and vegetable juices, drinks, soups and savoury biscuits.
The move opens new doors for drinks makers after being proposed by FSANZ officials in August, in response to a petition filed by functional food maker So Natural Foods for the addition of calcium to rice and oat-based drinks.
And an FSANZ consumer survey earlier this year said that "calcium-fortified fruit beverages will not attract mass market interest, but will be of interest to a significant minority".
The survey found that 14 per cent of consumers would definitely buy a calcium-enriched fruit juice, while 30 per cent said they might buy one.
More than half of the consumers asked also said they would replace their normal fruit juice drinks and cordials with fortified versions if available. Only a small proportion (between five and 12 per cent) would replace a milk drink with a fortitified fruit juice drink or cordial, however.
Analysts predict that Australia's fruit juice industry alone will explode over the next few years, led by the strong emergence of juice bars. These outlets are expected to double their current $150m (€90.5m) turnover in 2005, taking their share of Australia's $1bn juice industry to 30 per cent.
The Ministerial Council's ruling will help drinks makers to take better advantage of the rising consumer demand.
Producers may also look to capitalise on Australasians' calcium deficiency.
"There is considerable evidence to indicate inadequate intakes of calcium in the Australian and New Zealand populations," said FSANZ in a report this year. It said 28.4 per cent of Australians and 33.9 per cent of New Zealanders did not have enough calcium in their diets, with young women the worst group.
Studies have linked calcium to a number of health benefits, such as lowering the risk of bowel cancer, yet the mineral is generally accepted to be good for bones, especially in women, where it may help prevent osteoporosis in later life.
Before the Ministerial Council decision, Australia already allowed added calcium, as well as other vitamins and minerals, to certain foods such as breakfast cereals, most dairy products, and soy-based beverages and yoghurts.
Calcium could only be added to cereal-based beverages as a food additive, which meant that manufacturers could not use content claims to inform consumers of the presence of the mineral.
The Ministerial Council also supported a number of new FSANZ initiatives at its recent meeting.
These include: a five-year review to assess the impact of permitting calcium fortification; a review of the Food Standards Code with a view to putting vitamin and mineral claims into the new health claims standard; and a workshop for officials to consider issues relevant to voluntary fortification of food and drink.