EFSA recommends revised maximum vitamin A levels in feed for main food producing animals

EFSA’s FEEDAP Panel has adopted an opinion on the consequences for consumers of the use of vitamin A in animal feed, and recommended revised maximum levels in feed intended for the main food producing animals. It also recommended regulating complementary feeds[1], used in combination with other feed or forages, to avoid excessive levels of vitamin A as well as monitoring vitamin A in foods of concern such as liver, and providing suitable advice to help consumers avoid excessive intakes.

The European Commission asked EFSA to estimate the vitamin A intake of the population and review the scientific evidence linked to the possible risk of bone health problems in elderly people associated with high vitamin A intakes, including two reports from the UK and France. The use of vitamin A in feed is relevant for consumers since it remains in food products of animal origin and therefore contributes to people’s overall intake. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for people and animals, promoting vision, normal growth and development. It is added to feed to meet animal nutrition needs, and maximum levels are set by EU legislation for livestock bred for fattening.

Consumer exposure

The Panel looked at consumer exposure to vitamin A from various sources in our diets using studies from several EU countries. It found that a small proportion of the European population is at risk of exceeding the safe Upper Limit (UL) of 3,000 µg per day set by Scientific Committee on Food in 2002. The greatest risks of exceeding the UL come from eating liver - which contains high concentrations of preformed vitamin A - and from taking vitamin A supplements. Dairy products are also an important source, particularly in north European diets. Eggs make a smaller contribution and fish and other types of meat are not a significant source.

Quantitative correlations between retinol intake and bone health risk justifying a lower UL for elderly people could not be established. EFSA’s experts considered it advisable for those most at risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture - particularly post-menopausal women – to restrict intake to a lower level of 1,500 µg per day until new data indicate a need to re-evaluate the UL. The Panel noted that bone health is affected by various nutritional factors, including vitamin D, Ca, and Zn, which should also be considered when people are given dietary advice.

Feed recommendations

The Panel recommended that risk managers consider setting new maximum levels of vitamin A in feed intended for the main food producing animals - pigs, cattle and poultry. These levels would avoid any unnecessary high intakes among consumers without negative effects on animal health and performance.Amongst these recommendations, the Panel proposed setting a level for fattening pigs at around half the current amount allowed by EU legislation.

EFSA’s opinion has been forwarded to the Commission as a basis for any further discussion with Member States on risk management aspects.

Notes to editors

The use of vitamin A as a feed additive is currently authorised under Regulation (EC) No 1831/2003 as a nutritional additive.

Preformed vitamin A is only found in foods of animal origin, although some fruits and vegetables contain compounds called carotenoids that can be converted into vitamin A by the body. The preformed type of vitamin A found in foods of animal origin is also known as retinol and its esters, a name given due to the participation of this compound in the functions of the retina.

The UL set by the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) in 2002 is 3,000 µg RE from preformed vitamin A per day. The SCF considered that this may not provide an adequate margin of safety in relation to the possible decrease in bone density and the risk of bone fracture, and that it would be advisable that postmenopausal women, who are at greater risk of osteoporosis and fracture, should restrict their intake of preformed vitamin A to 1,500 µg RE per day.

The FEEDAP Panel considered four national studies on the intake of vitamin A in adults (Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands) and one in children. The Panel also made a separate calculation on the vitamin A intake of adults based on the food consumption survey within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) project published in 2002 (with 27 study centres, 10 European countries, consumption of relevant food groups).

[1] Complementary feedingstuffs are mixtures of feedingstuffs which have a high content of certain substances but which, by reason of their composition, are sufficient for a daily ration only if used in combination with other feedingstuffs.

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