Vitamins Part 4: Legal Issues

In the US, the FDA and the USDA are the main Federal agencies that manage the regulations to insure that we have a healthy, safe food supply. The regulations that they follow are published in the various Titles of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). In particular in CFR21 Food and Drugs. So for example, I searched this section of CFR and got 40 hits. One of those is titled Vitamin A and this is where Vitamin A, and what can be called Vitamin A is defined (21 CFR Ch 1 (04-01-04 edition) §184.1930).

Fortunately, the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Nutrition (CSFAN) is a good website and quite often there are summaries of the regulations. An example is the information page on “How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label?.

Nutritional Facts

From the vitamin perspective, Vitamin A and C must be on the nutritional facts panel. If the food has none, the label should say “Not a significant source of _________” (listing the vitamins or minerals omitted). The label should represent what is in the actual food within 20%. For example, if your food contains 100% DV Vitamin C, then is must contain between 80 and 120% DV Vitamin C. The rules are more confusing than that as it depends on whether it is naturally present or added after processing. The FDA tests food bought at a supermarket, so the food should contain that amount of the nutrient up to the “sell by date?, if there is one. This is often be the limiting factor for shelf life, especially for foods which are high in unstable vitamins such as Vitamin C.

Another way that vitamins are regulated is enrichment. Flour is the most commonly enriched food and “conforms to the definition and standard of identity, and is subject to the requirements for label statement of ingredients, prescribed for flour by Sec. 137.105, except that:

(a) It contains in each pound 2.9 milligrams of thiamin, 1.8 milligrams of riboflavin, 24 milligrams of niacin, 0.7 milligrams of folic acid, and 20 milligrams of iron.

(b) It may contain added calcium in such quantity that the total calcium content is 960 milligrams per pound.? etc.

The FDA is also responsible for dietary supplements, of which vitamin supplements are part. But that is a whole separate topic.

Other federal agencies are also involved in food regulations but not vitamins per se:

The USDA administers the regulations towards meat, milk*, and eggs. In fact, a lot of food research takes place at the ARS centers, which is a USDA agency.

The National Marine Fisheries together with the FDA and the EPA administer regulations to ensure seafood safety.

The EPA also has regulatory responsibilities for pesticides, drinking water safety and composition of effluent from processing plants.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has, no surprises here, responsibility for beers, wines, liquors and other alcohol beverages.

Advertising and sales promotion are overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.

And finally, but not least, importation of food products is managed by the Customs Service.

*The FDA also has responsibilities for milk and all the states have their own guidelines towards milk safety and quality. States may also have guidelines for other food products. At least for now, until there is a National Food Uniformity Act.