European court tells Netherlands to open up on fortified foods

United Kingdom

The Netherlands has been told that it must allow the marketing of foods with added vitamins and minerals without requiring manufacturers to prove that there is a ‘nutritional’ need for such products.

Under Dutch national food law, foods fortified with vitamin A or D, folic acid, selenium, copper or zinc, may not be marketed unless they do not pose a risk to public health and also meet an actual nutritional need.

But in a case brought by the European Commission, the European Court of Justice ruled that this second requirement, when used alone, obstructed the free trade of products in the European Union.

The case concerned Kellogg’s breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin D and folic acid and a range of fortified with folic acid made by Inkosport Nederland. Both companies marketed their products elsewhere in the EU but had been prevented from selling the goods in the Netherlands.

The court ruled:

“Although the criterion of nutritional need of the population of a Member State can play a role in its detailed assessment of the risk which the addition of nutrients to foodstuffs may pose for public health, the absence of such a need cannot, by itself, justify a total prohibition, [on the basis of free trade in Europe]”.

The European Commission had proposed a harmonized law on the fortification of foods in November 2003 but this did not progress due to disagreement on issues, including nutritional profiles.

This article first appeared in our Food industry law bulletin May 2005. To view this publication, please click here to open a new window.