Health Canada is preparing to allow the food industry to add vitamins and minerals to foods at their discretion — a move that some say will allow junk food to be promoted as health food.
12/05/2009 5:38:26 PM
In this May 17, 2007 file photo, various nutritional information labels are shown. (AP / Larry Crowe)
CTV.ca News Staff
While many foods in Canada are already fortified with nutrients (vitamin D is added to milk, and folic acid is added to flour), the proposed changes would loosen current restrictions to allow food manufacturers to choose which nutrients to add to which food products.
Health Canada says there would be defined limits on fortification inthe new regulations, but not everyone likes the idea. Critics of the plan say it will manufacturers to take junk food, such as cookies, add vitamins and synthetic nutrients and then package and market them as “heart healthy” or “immune system boosters” or with other claims.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute, a weight management centre in Ottawa, worries that some Canadians might choose these packaged fortified foods thinking that the nutrients can make an unhealthy food healthier.
“We know that front-of-package health claims do, in fact, influence consumer behaviour. … Therefore, it might steer people to choose less healthy options. It might influence people to consume more of a less healthy option,” he tells the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
He says he simply doesn’t see the need for adding nutrients to foods.
“I can appreciate that if there were some sort of massive public health crisis of vitamin deficiencies, giving the food industry the ability to fortify foods would be a useful plan of action. But given that we’re all fine, this is really misguided and panders to the food industry,” he tells the CMAJ.
Health Canada agrees the Canadian food supply is already abundant and nutritious. But it says its planned changes come as a response to concerns that the current fortification policy and practices are too restrictive, thereby limiting the development of new food products.
Some dieticians worry that allowing discretionary fortification would put Canadians at risk of ingesting too much of those vitamins that can be toxic in high amounts. Too much beta carotene, for example, has been linked to lung cancer, folic acid has recently been linked to prostate cancer and colon cancer, and vitamin E has been linked to all causes of mortality.
Health Canada agrees in a statement on their website that it is possible to get too much of some nutrients. “This is why the proposed policy would set specific limits on what nutrients can be added to food, how much of an individual vitamin or mineral can be added, and which foods can not be fortified at the discretion of manufacturers.”
While Health Canada says its focus group tests suggest Canadians don’t choose fortified “junk” food over healthy food, Freedhoff says he’s not so sure.
The bottom line is this – our food supply does not need fortification – it has ample amounts of nutrients,” he writes on his blog, Weighty Matters. “What Canadians need is the education and encouragement to actually utilize our whole food supply not our processed food supply.”
The amendments to the Food and Drugs Regulations that would allow discretionary fortification were scheduled to be published in the Canada Gazette on Mar. 31. But the announcement was unexpectedly delayed, amid word of division within Health Canada on the merits of fortification.