Danish prohibition of a host of fortified foods and beverages produced by major companies such as Unilever Bestfoods and Kellogg's does not signal a hardening of the Scandinavian nation's notoriously tough stance on functional foods, according to a government official.
Paolo Drostby, deputy head of the food division at the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA), said Denmark's food laws were eased last December after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled against its policy of banning those fortified foods containing nutrients it deemed the population did not need. The ECJ said only those foods containing ingredients determined unsafe by scientific assessment methods could be banned.
But despite this apparent liberalisation, the country's unusually high supplement intake is being used to justify continued product restrictions such as Denmark's refusal to authorise 18 Kellogg's cereals and bars in August, which drew accusations of an overly draconian system out of synch with the rest of the world.
The Kellogg's products in question were rejected because "the company wishes to add iron, calcium, vitamin B6 and folic acid in amounts that are too high" when other dietary sources are also considered, according to the Danish Institute for Food and Veterinary Research (DFVF), which carries out the assessments. It bases its calculations on surveys of Danish diets that have revealed high food supplements intakes (in half the adult population and 70 per cent of children aged 4-10). Denmark is the only European country that conducts scientific safety assessments on all fortified foods seeking entry into its market.
Of roughly 50 fortified food applications in 2004, there have been a handful of approvals and a similar number of rejections (including Unilever's request for a vitamin E-fortified spread). The majority of applications are still being assessed.
Chris Wermann, director of corporate communications at Kellogg's Europe, said it had been granted a consultation with the DVFA to present further evidence in support of its case. "We feel this decision has much to do with the fact vitamin and mineral supplementation is so high in Denmark. Because more Danes use supplements than most European populations, the authorities feel a greater proportion of their population is already closer to the upper safe levels."
However, Torben Damm, chairman of the Danish Health Product Association, accused the DFVF of working from outdated 10-year-old data in its assessment process.
"They have grossly overstated supplement use among the majority of Danes," he said. "Kellogg's and many other companies that have had their foods prohibited have every right to feel aggrieved."
Drostby pointed out that many other foods and beverages have been approved since the change of policy that would have been prohibited previously. These include energy drinks, fortified juices and spreads.