The risk assessments will form the basis of a national regulation for these 'other substances', which refers to ingredients with a nutritional or physiological effect that are not vitamins or minerals. The Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM) is to look at a 44-strong list that includes caffeine, inulin, taurine, leucine and conjugated linoleic acid.
At EU level, these substances fall within the scope of the 2006 European Regulation on "the addition of vitamins and minerals and of certain other substances to foods". This nine-year-old regulation sought to harmonise differing national rules on vitamins, minerals and other substances which impeded the free movement of these products.
However, the EU project to set safe upper limits for vitamins and mineral was grounded in 2009, with the European Commission since saying there were no immediate plans for its relaunch. The other substances have not had such upper limits set either, leading national agencies to step in to fill this regulatory gap.
"At EU level, 'other substances' remain largely unregulated. In order to ensure safe use of 'other substances' many countries have regulated their use at a national level. Denmark for instance has a positive list i.e. a list of substances with maximal daily doses, permitted for use in food supplements and other foods," the Norwegian authority said in its announcement.
The NFSA has called on the VKM to help it do the same in preparation for "an eventual regulation". The initial list of 44 substances - compiled with the help of industry and based on substances found in products in Norway- could grow as other substances were considered. Anthocyanins were among the substances that could be added.
Gro Haarklou Mathisen, VKM senior advisor and scientific coordinator for its Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids, Materials in Contact with Food and Cosmetics, told us it could be that some firms failed to tell the authority what substances they were using, meaning others were out there to be assessed.
The proposed deadline for the assessments that began in January this year was 31st December 2016. The first was due to be published in October although it was not yet clear which substance that would be.
Energy drink targets
Four of the ingredients on the list were those commonly used in energy drinks. The VKM would be looking at caffeine, taurine, glucuronolactone and D-ribose.
Haarklou Mathisen said the assessments would be for single substances only and would not look at possible interaction with things like caffeine or alcohol.
For these energy drink ingredients the safety assessments would be for a general population aged three years and over. Dosages for this would reflect a high acute intake, an average chronic intake and a high chronic intake.
Meanwhile for the other ingredients the assessments would look at limits for the general population aged over ten years.
The authority said this project came as consumption of food supplements containing these other substances was growing. It said in 2011 they constituted over 50% of the Norwegian market share in 2011.
Substances regulated by other legislations like that for novel foods, food additives, aromas, foods for special medical purposes were excluded from the list.
In a separate project by the same authority, Norway has been steadily releasing risk assessments for vitamins and minerals. The last to be released was folic acid.