Members of the European Parliament1 agree that consumers should have the right to choose foods that are enriched with vitamins and minerals despite restrictions placed on food fortification in many of their respective countries.

Conducted on behalf of US cereals giant Kellogg, a news survey carried out by investigated the attitudes of Members of the European Parliament regarding diet and health, including the addition of vitamins and minerals to foods. In addition, MEPs were questioned about their own diet and lifestyle patterns, including their breakfast habits.

While recognising the importance of diet to health, MEPs cited “quality or freshness” as the number one factor affecting food choice, which mirrors the results of an earlier pan-European consumer survey.2 As for consumers, MEPs also confirmed that “trying to eat healthily” and “taste” are key considerations in guiding food choice.

MEPs and consumers also agree on the main benefits of healthy eating, with “preventing disease” and “staying healthy” quoted as top two.

Although nutritionists and health professionals often recommend breakfast as the most important meal of the day, over half of MEPs selected dinner first. One in three do believe, however, that breakfast is their most important meal, and all respondents stated that they eat breakfast at least 2-3 times a week, with nearly two-thirds eating it every day.

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While MEPs spend little time at breakfast (12 minutes on average) due to their busy lifestyles and travel schedule, they usually eat a complete and balanced breakfast, including a beverage, breakfast cereals or bread, fruit and/or fruit juice and a dairy product such as yoghurt or cheese. The view that breakfast cereals make a positive contribution to the diet is a view widely shared by MEPs.

Over half of MEPs surveyed reported regularly taking a vitamin supplement, or selecting foods high in vitamins and minerals, including fortified foods, despite a commonly stated belief that a healthy diet can provide adequate vitamins and minerals.

A key finding was that MEPs are in favour of fortifying foods with vitamins and minerals as long as it is safe. MEPs also firmly believe that consumers should have the right to select their own diets from a wide variety of foods.

“What is interesting about this survey is that the opinions expressed by MEPs are exactly opposite to the policies and day to day practice of governments in some countries of the European Union” comments Anne-Laure Gassin, Director of Nutrition Affairs at Kellogg Europe. “While the safety and nutritional contribution of fortified foods have been demonstrated by a long history of responsible practice, still today some EU Member States do not allow the sale of fortified foods available in other Member States”.

This highlights the need for a common European regulatory framework on the addition of vitamins and minerals to foods, which is advocated by MEPs. “I am behind the idea of harmonising national regulations regarding the addition of nutrients to foods, as European consumers should be able to access the same products wherever they are”, explains Spanish MEP Maria del Pilar Ayuso. John Bowis, a British MEP stresses that “We need an agreement on fortified foods across Europe”. “The European Parliament must promote efforts on harmonisation of fortified foods…and make all the necessary efforts to put fortification high on the agenda” emphasises Ward Beysen, a Belgian MEP.

European nutrition research confirms that individuals who eat fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals, have higher vitamin and mineral intakes and improved nutritional and health status compared to other consumers.

Anne-Laure Gassin concludes: “Together with nutrition education, food fortification can play an important role in helping European consumers meet their dietary requirements”.

For more information please contact: Christina Kaul, Associate Director, Hill and Knowlton Brussels, Avenue de Cortenbergh 118 box 8, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium.

1 A cross section of Members of the European Parliament specifically involved in food policy-making.

2 Institute of European Food Studies, 1996.