The draft publication sets maximum safe levels for vitamins A, B6, C and D, along with beta carotene; folic acid and magnesium –nutrients that the FSAI has seen in high doses in various supplement products.
“This new guidance comes at a time when we are seeing a continuously increasing number of food supplements coming onto the Irish market,” says Dr Pamela Byrne, FSAI’s CEO.
“When it comes to vitamins and minerals our message to consumers is that ‘more is not always better’ and to be aware of what you are eating.
“[The guide] provides clarity around what is expected of food businesses to ensure consumers are protected from potentially harmful doses of vitamin and mineral food supplements.”
Food industry input
Titled ‘Guidance for Food Businesses: The Safety of Vitamins and Minerals in Food Supplements,’ the publication has been developed with food industry cooperation alongside the Irish Health Trade Association and Ireland’s Health Service Executive.
Along with setting maximum safe levels for vitamins and minerals in food supplements, the guide also provides advice on maximum safe levels for population sub-groups such as children, teens, adults, pregnancy, menopause and older people.
According to the National Adult Nutrition Survey 2011, the use of food supplements is widespread in Ireland with 22% of men and 33% of women (18-64-year olds) reporting the use of a food supplement. Supplement use was highest (37%) in those aged 65 years and over.
About one fifth of pre-school children and children aged 5-12 years were regular consumers of nutritional supplements. Approximately one quarter of all teenagers took food supplements.
Current EU law sets out legal requirements of vitamins and minerals and the forms which food supplements can contain when a food supplement is placed on the market.
The law also states that maximum levels of vitamins and minerals shall be set for food supplements by the European Commission. However, harmonised levels have not been established yet.
In the absence of legal EU levels, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has stepped in to provide guidance on maximum levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements in Ireland to protect consumers.
“The guidance details the scientific examination food supplements undergo to assess whether they pose a risk to human health,” adds Byrne.
“The only food supplements that the FSAI recommends are 400 micrograms (µg) folic acid per day for women who are sexually active and a 5µg vitamin D3 supplement every day for breastfed infants from birth to 12 months and for those infants taking less than 300 millilitres (mls) or 10 fluid ounces of infant formula a day from birth to 12 months.”
According to the FSAI, the number of food supplements on the Irish market notified to the FSAI has been increasing year on year with numbers rising from 700 in 2007 to over 2,500 in 2017 – an increase of over 300%.
Of those notified, the number of products that posed a risk to consumer safety also increased, with over 95% of food supplements identified as containing high vitamin or mineral content.