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Brussels, 10 November 2003

Commission proposes common rules for adding vitamins and minerals to foods

The European Commission has today proposed a Regulation setting out common rules for the voluntary addition of vitamins, minerals and other substances such as herbal extracts to foods. The proposed legislation would harmonise the different rules in Member States and allow the free movement throughout the EU of foods “fortified” with nutrients. It would also create a list of approved vitamins, minerals and other substances. Minimum and maximum levels for adding different nutrients to foods would be set following scientific advice and labelling would show consumers which nutrients have been added to each product. The proposal will be adopted under the so-called co-decision procedure.

“We all know a healthy diet is a varied diet. People choosing to add nutrients to their diet by selecting foodstuffs fortified with vitamins and minerals should be guaranteed safe products labelled with clear and accurate information to avoid any risk of taking a vitamin overdose,” said David Byrne, the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. “Industry would also benefit from clear EU-wide rules backed up by solid science.”

Why an EU Regulation?

At the moment Member States have very different rules on adding nutrients to foods. This can create obstacles for the free movement of goods and means there are different standards of food safety across the EU. The proposed new Regulation would reduce this problem by creating harmonised rules based on solid science which would ensure a high level of consumer health protection.

What would the proposed Regulation do?

The proposed Regulation would create a list of approved vitamins and minerals which could be added to food. For substances often added to food - such as herbal extracts, proteins and amino acids - the proposed Regulation would introduce a mechanism involving the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which would allow the examination of these substances to assess any possible risk to human health. EFSA is an independent scientific body which advises the European Commission on food safety issues.

The proposed Regulation would 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.

What changes could consumers expect?

Once the proposal has been adopted, consumers would be able to choose products that contained vitamins and minerals in quantities that were safe to consume. They would also have more information about how much of each nutrient they were getting in their diet and how much they actually needed. All foods with added nutrients would have to be labelled to inform consumers about their nutritional value. The labelling would have to respect EU rules on food labelling and food-related claims.

Vitamins and minerals in the right quantities are an essential part of a healthy diet but people are often unaware that too much of a good thing can be harmful. For example, large amounts of vitamin A are not recommended for pregnant women or people with liver disease. The proposed new Regulation would ensure only safe doses of such nutrients were added to individual foods and that their total intake within the context of a varied diet did not become excessive.

Would there be any restrictions on adding vitamins and minerals to certain foods?

Vitamins and minerals could be added to food as long as the product did not pose a risk to the health of consumers. An important exception would be fresh food such as fruit, vegetables or meat that should be preserved in their natural state. Adding vitamins or minerals to alcoholic drinks would not be allowed in line with efforts to combat alcohol abuse.

To learn more about foods fortified with vitamins, minerals and other substances, please see MEMO/03/224.

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