Food manufacturers are currently permitted to add vitamins and minerals to some food products. The food regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is considering extending these permissions so that vitamins and minerals can be added to a broader range of foods.
FSANZ is also considering how fortification can assist in addressing health conditions that are associated with deficiencies in particular nutrients. For example, iodine fortification could be used to address iodine deficiency disorder and folate fortification to prevent neural tube defects in unborn babies.
Fortification may be mandatory – where the government requires that specific foods must be fortified with a particular nutrient, or voluntary – where the government allows the addition of certain vitamins and minerals to specific foods but lets each food manufacturer decide whether or not they will fortify their products.
What we want
CHOICE believes that fortification should only be considered when it performs one of the following functions:
- Restoration of vitamins and minerals lost during processing eg replacing vitamin C lost in the processing of orange juice
- Nutritional equivalence of substitute foods eg adding calcium to rice and soy milk
- Addressing a demonstrated health need in the general population or particular population groups.
Fortification standards should also address the following issues:
- Unhealthy food such as soft drinks, fast foods and snack foods should not be fortified to improve consumption of vitamins and minerals.
- All strategies for improving consumption of particular nutrients should be considered, not just fortification. In some circumstances other strategies may be more appropriate than fortification. i.e. public education campaigns. If the intent is to address nutrient deficiencies, CHOICE believes fortification should be supported by government funded public education campaigns.
- Consideration must be given to the levels at which the nutrient is already present in the food supply, and the impact that further fortification will have on all population groups.
- The nutrient must be added at levels that is safe and efficacious for all consumers not just the target group.
- The foods that are fortified must be consumed by the target population.
What we’re doing
In 2003, CHOICE was a member of the stakeholder advisory group that guided the Food Regulation Standing Committee in the development of policy principles for the fortification of foods with vitamins and minerals.
The resulting policy guidelines failed to address a number of concerns raised by consumer and public health groups. CHOICE joined with the Public Health Association of Australia, Nutrition Australia, the Australasian Society for the Study of Obesity and Dr Rosemary Stanton to form the Coalition for a Health Australian Food Supply (CHAFS). Fortification is one of the key issues on which CHAFS lobbied for greater attention to public health and consumer concerns.
More recently CHOICE has been a member of the FSANZ Standard Development Advisory Committee, a group of public health, government and industry stakeholders that have been guiding FSANZ on mandatory fortification of iodine and folate. FSANZ also asked two expert panels to review the evidence supporting the use of iodine and folate fortification in the prevention of iodine deficiency disorders and neural tube defects respectively.
In July and August 2006, FSANZ released two draft assessment reports on mandatory fortification of folate and iodine. CHOICE responded to both reports – see our submissions on mandatory iodine and folate fortification. In October 2006, the Australian New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council asked FSANZ to review its final proposal on the addition of folate to bread. Ministers have not yet considered the proposal to add iodine to bread, breakfast cereals and biscuits. CHOICE will also comment on any future applications or proposed changes to the fortification standards.
In 2005, FSANZ was also considering the addition of vitamins and minerals to some water-based beverages called formulated beverages. In submission to FSANZ CHOICE expressed concern about the addition of vitamins and minerals to sugary drinks. Other public health groups shared these concerns. However, FSANZ did not believe these concerns were justified and has permitted the addition of 16 vitamins and minerals to water-based flavoured beverages.
What you can do
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