Written Answers. - Fortified Foods.
293 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children the Government's position on fortified foods; the vitamins and minerals that are recognised for inclusion in foods such as breakfast cereals, margarine, milk and snacks; the monitoring which is carried out on fortified foods; his views on a single market for fortified foods; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7626/01]
294 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children the proposals he has to remove barriers to trade for foods with added nutrients within the EU; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that vitamin D, which can be added to breakfast cereals in Britain, Ireland and Spain, is not allowed in France and the Netherlands; his views in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7627/01]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 293 and 294 together.
An adequate and varied diet can, under normal circumstances, provide all necessary nutrients for normal development and maintenance of a healthy life. However, surveys show that this ideal situation is not being achieved for all nutrients and by all groups of the population. The recently launched North-South Ireland food con sumption survey showed inadequate intakes of calcium, iron, vitamin D and folate in certain subgroups of the population. In particular, findings showed that few women of reproductive age achieved the folate intake recommended for the prevention of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida in newborn infants and all those who met the recommended intake were using folic acid supplements.
Fortified foods could contribute to a considerable extent towards an adequate intake of nutrients. There are no specific national provisions with respect to fortification of foods in Ireland. However, only food fit for human consumption may be made available and offered for sale to the public.
Food fortification is a generic term for the addition of nutrients to foods and it is generally accepted that it takes a number of forms: (a) Food restoration: the term "restoration" describes the replacement, either fully or partially, of nutrients lost during some stage of food production or distribution, for example, vitamins A and D in low fat milk and vitamin C in fruit juices; (b) Food fortification-enrichment: the term "fortification" describes the addition of nutrients to a food to levels above those normally present in that food. In some cases, nutrients that are not naturally present in a particular food may be added to that food. TheCodex Alimentarius defines fortification and-or enrichment as “the addition of one or more essential nutrients to a food whether or not it is normally contained in the food for the purpose of preventing or correcting a demonstrated deficiency of one or more essential nutrients in the population group”; (c) Substitution: this means adding one or more nutrients to a food which is intended as a substitute for another food in the diet. For example vitamins A and D are added to margarine which was developed as a substitute for butter.
Foods most commonly fortified include breakfast cereals, fruit juices, low fat milks and milk powders, low calorie soups, slimming, dietetic and baby foods.
Nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and others, probiotic bacteria, components of "dietary fibre", for example, inulin or oligofructose, and fish oils, are added to foods voluntarily by food manufacturers or are required to be added as provided by specific national or Community legislation for example, infant formula and follow on formula, foods intended for use in energy restricted diets.
In order to test for compliance with general food labelling requirements, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, in collaboration with the environmental health services and the public analyst laboratories of the health boards, has incorporated the monitoring of vitamins and minerals in fortified foods, including breakfast cereals, milk, soft drinks, etc., in this year's national food sampling programme.
I am aware that some member states require the mandatory addition of some vitamins and minerals to certain ordinary foods, for reasons dictated by public health considerations, such as the addition of vitamins A and D to margarine, or the addition of iodine to salt.
I understand that differing national rules may impede the free movement of these products within the EU. The absence of EU wide regulations may also create unequal conditions of competition and thus have a direct impact on the functioning of the internal market.
In view of the above, the Commission, in its White Paper on food safety, has committed itself to bringing forward a proposal for a directive on fortified food, which will lay down provisions for marketing foods to which nutrients such as vitamins and minerals have been added. This directive will serve to protect consumers' health and to facilitate intra-Community trade in such products. It is likely that this directive will, as a first stage, lay down a positive list of vitamins and minerals which may be added to food. I look forward to participating in discussions at EU level with a view to introducing this directive on nutrients that may be added to food to fruition.