Finland's National Food Agency has found that several products with added vitamin D do not contain the maximum level permitted in Finland under a recently adopted regulation.
This could be because manufacturers of the products tested also wish to comply with requirements of other markets in which they are active, suggests Annika Nurttila, senior officer at the food agency.
Several studies have shown that the intake of vitamin D is too low in Europe, particularly in northern regions lacking in sunlight for several months of the year. In order to correct this, Finland's National Nutrition Council proposed in 2002 that the Ministry of Trade and Industry increase the levels at which foods could be supplemented with vitamin D.
The supplementing of milk products with vitamin D has been widely implemented since February 2003.
But although the new law allows levels of vitamin D in edible fats of up to 10 micrograms/100g (previously it had specified a range of 5-10 micrograms/100g), not all products currently available have made use of this higher level, found a recent survey.
"If these changes had been carried through, it would revise average daily intake from around 2mcg up to approximately 4mcg," Nurttila told NutraIngredients.com.
"But the effect of the change was not as great as expected. We believe it is mostly a question of products being sold in different countries where the legislation and interpretation of fortified foods is different," she added.
This issue has recently been highlighted by Denmark's ban on new vitamin-enriched products made by Kelloggs. Finland's findings further underline the need for a European Union-wide regulation on fortified foods, as recently proposed by the Commission.
In a survey designed to check that vitamin levels corresponded with those on product labels, the food agency analysed the vitamin D in 38 milk products, including 10 edible fats.
Most (eight out of 10) of the edible fat samples indicated a vitamin D level of 7.5 micrograms/100g. The samples were all margarines made by Unilever or Raisio, both of which market their products across Europe.
"There may also be issues with the availability of vitamin premixes and the proportions of vitamins offered," added Nurttila.
The food agency noted however that the situation has slightly changed since the survey was carried out and at present the indicated level of vitamin D in most of the edible fats sold in Finland is 9.2 micrograms/100g.
However, there are still products on the market, in which the level has remained at 7.5 micrograms/100g.
The average vitamin D level of milk product samples taken from different parts of the country, was 0.52 micrograms/100g.
Finland is carrying out a full evaluation of the influence of vitamin D supplementing on dietary intake and the vitamin D situation in different population groups, including infants.
The investigation is being carried out by several research teams and is expected to be completed by the end of 2005.
The National Food Agency has published a brochure 'Vitaminoitu, Tarpeellista vai turhaa' (Supplementing with vitamins - necessary or not) to provide information to consumers about the benefits and possible disadvantages of supplementing food with vitamins as well as about labelling. It is available on the Agency's website in Finnish and Swedish.