A controversy is brewing among public health experts and the food industry as Canada inches closer to allowing food companies to add vitamins and minerals to highly processed food products.
In 2005, Health Canada proposed a policy that would allow food manufacturers to fortify certain foods with nutrients such as thiamin, beta-carotene, vitamin D and calcium as a way to increase access to certain vitamins and minerals.
This proposal would not include foods that naturally contain vitamins and minerals, such as fruits, vegetables, pasta, bread, rice, fresh meat and fish, breakfast cereal, spices and seasonings. It would only apply to products like frozen dinners or packaged snacks.
In an article released on May 12, 2009, the Canadian Medical Association Journal said federal regulations on junk food vitamin fortification were expected to be published in March 2009, but have been delayed at the request of Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
Many public health and nutrition experts fear that vitamin fortification would be used as a marketing gimmick by companies for selling packaged or processed food with little nutritional value.
Passing this piece of legislation could "exacerbate the unhealthy eating habits of many Canadians by creating confusion about the nutritional benefits of certain foods", said Bill Jeffery, national co-ordinator of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (Canada).
"Those kinds of claims ... can discourage people from consuming foods that are truly nutritious, that are truly beneficial," said Jeffery.
Food and Consumer Products of Canada, an association that represents many food manufacturers, argues that introducing vitamin-fortified products would give consumers more opportunities to choose foods that could help them meet daily nutritional requirements.
However, many packaged or processed foods contain high levels of sugar, fat, calories or sodium which would negate any benefit derived from the fortification with vitamins.
Nutrition experts agree that eating a well-balanced diet including 7 to 10 daily servings of vegetables and fruits is the best way to meet your nutritional requirements for vitamins and minerals.
For more information on this new policy, check out Health Canada's Information Sheet on Food Fortification.
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