30.4.2004   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 112/44


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the addition of vitamins and minerals and of certain other substances to foods’

(COM(2003) 671 final - 2003/0262 (COD))

(2004/C 112/12)

On 24 November 2003 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 4 March 2004. The rapporteur was Ms Heinisch.

At its 407th plenary session on 31 March and 1 April 2004 (meeting of 31 March), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 95 votes with 3 abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

Because different national provisions obtain in the individual Member States, the market in foods to which vitamins, minerals or other substances have been added varies considerably and thus presents an obstacle to the free movement of goods. Uniform European legislation is therefore very welcome, also for the purpose of protecting consumers.

1.2

Although it must be assumed that a balanced diet can provide all essential vitamins, minerals and other substances, for various reasons such a diet is not consumed by all sectors of the population in the European Union (1).

1.3

In this context, fortifying foods with vitamins, minerals or other substances can be seen as one of many measures for improving the delivery of essential nutrients to the general public, without being a substitute for a balanced and varied diet.

1.4   However, further steps are certainly needed to improve people's nutrition, such as information campaigns or health education for schools. Attention must be paid above all to particular target groups, such as the elderly, who suffer from deficiencies of certain nutrients more than others. It is also necessary to consider the importance of food supplements.

1.4.1

In this connection the EESC urges that appropriate strategies be developed to ensure that people's intake of folic acid is adequate. This could be achieved through mandatory fortification of certain foods with folic acid throughout the EU or through national information campaigns.

1.5

It should not become the norm for foods to be fortified with vitamins, minerals or other substances. Non-fortified foods should not be discriminated against. Nor should consumers be given the impression that foods fortified with vitamins, minerals or other substances can generally be considered superior to non-fortified foods.

2.   Gist of the Commission proposal

2.1

The Proposal for a Regulation on the addition of vitamins and minerals and of certain other substances to foods is intended to harmonise provisions in the EU Member States for the marketing of foods to which vitamins, minerals and certain other substances have been added by choice.

2.2

The proposal is not meant to harmonise legal provisions governing the obligatory addition of vitamins and minerals. Some Member States already have provisions governing such mandatory fortification of certain food groups in order to correct known regional nutritional deficits. Since those provisions are very much geared to regional situations, their harmonisation would not be appropriate.

2.3

Only vitamins and minerals or combinations thereof that are listed in Annexes I and II of the regulation may be added to foods. They may be added only for the purpose of enriching the food, making it nutritionally equivalent to a reference food or restoring substances that have been lost as part of the proper manufacturing process or during normal storage or handling.

2.4

Fresh non-processed produce (including fruit, vegetables and meat) and beverages containing more than 1.2 % by volume of alcohol may not normally be fortified with vitamins or minerals, and this restriction may be extended to other foods or food groups in future.

2.5

Special labelling provisions are to be introduced for foods to which vitamins and minerals have been added.

2.6

The addition of substances other than vitamins and minerals also falls within the scope of the present proposal for a regulation.

2.7

It will be possible either to prohibit or to limit the addition of substances to foods by including them in Annex III of the regulation. However, substances may also be placed under observation if there are doubts as to their safety.

2.8

To facilitate monitoring, Member States have the possibility of introducing a notification system for fortified foods, whereby a model of the product label must be submitted to the competent authority.

3.   General comments

3.1

The EESC welcomes the European Commission's proposal to harmonise the legal provisions relating to the addition of vitamins and minerals and of certain other substances to foods. The proposal is very well-rounded, both with respect to the free circulation of goods and to consumer protection.

3.2

The EESC notes that the principle of providing nutrient profiles contained in the Commission's preliminary proposal is not contained in the present proposal. However, since it can be assumed that substances are added to food only if claims can also be made for them, the EESC agrees with the Commission's position in the explanatory memorandum that the present proposal need not make explicit provision for the establishment of nutrient profiles, since these are already provided for in the Commission's proposal on nutrition and health claims.

3.3

However, the EESC would emphasise that consistency must be ensured between this proposal and the planned provisions in the proposal for a regulation on nutrition and health claims.

3.4

The EESC expressly welcomes the ban on adding vitamins and minerals to beverages containing more than 1.2 % by volume of alcohol and the ban on adding vitamins and minerals to fresh and non-transformed produce. The addictive potential of alcohol is uncontested, and its consumption should not therefore be encouraged by adding vitamins minerals.

3.5

The EESC notes that in the absence of harmonised implementing rules, national arrangements may be maintained. This includes setting maximum levels for vitamins and minerals that may be added to a food. However, the EESC would like this provision to be formulated more precisely, e.g. by using the wording in Article 11 of Directive 2002/46/EC on food supplements (2).

4.   Specific comments

4.1   Article 8: The EESC notes that it is not easy to indicate the recommended daily intake in portions for foods, in contrast to food supplements, because the understanding of portion sizes varies widely between the EU Member States. It is nevertheless necessary to prevent overdoses of vitamins or minerals, and the EESC recommends that appropriate measures be taken to achieve this.

4.1.1

The consumer should also be informed about the importance of a balanced diet, and specifically that consumption of foods to which vitamins, minerals or other substances have been added can be seen only as part of a balanced diet and not as a substitute. Information to this effect should be printed on the label.

4.1.2

Similar provisions are contained in Directive 2002/46/EC on food supplements (3)  (4).

4.2

Article 8(3): The EESC considers that the labelling of a food to which vitamins or minerals have been added should always mention this fact and, therefore suggests replacing voluntary labelling with mandatory labelling. It should be possible for every consumer to distinguish between fortified and non-fortified foods readily and at a glance.

4.3

Chapter III: The EESC believes that the special provisions for labelling, presentation and advertising (Article 8) should also apply to substances other than vitamins and minerals, especially the mandatory indication of which substances have been added to the food and in which amounts.

5.   Conclusion

5.1

The Committee considers the proposal in general to be well-balanced and cohesive.

5.2

An obligation to indicate on the labelling that nutrients have been added to the food would meet the consumer's right to information.

5.3

Appropriate measures should also be taken to prevent excessive intake of vitamins, minerals or other substances. It is also important in this connection to mention the value of a balanced diet.

5.4

The special labelling requirements, which in the present proposal apply only to food fortified with vitamins and minerals, should be extended to include foods to which substances other than vitamins and minerals are added.

Brussels, 31 March 2004

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Roger BRIESCH


(1)  See the Status report on the European Commission's work in the field of nutrition in Europe, October 2002 http://europa.eu.int/comm/health/ph_determinants/life_style/nutrition/documents/nutrition_report_en.pdf

and Eurodiet - Nutrition & Diet for Healthy Lifestyles in Europe, 1998

http://europa.eu.int/comm/health/ph_determinants/life_style/nutrition/report01_en.pdf

(2)  OJ L 183, 12.7.2002, p. 51

(3)  OJ L 183, 12.7.2002, p. 51

(4)  OJ C 14 of 16.01.2001