Are chemical names of vitamins on packaging scaring away consumers? DSM thinks so

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Lecic
© Getty Images / Lecic

Related tags: Label, Vitamin, Fda

Ingredient supplier DSM Nutritional Products filed a citizen petition to the FDA, suggesting an amendment to allow brands to use simpler vitamin names on pack instead of chemical nomenclature, in an effort to appease consumers looking for ‘recognizable ingredients.’

“Because of a lack of familiarity with chemical vitamin nomenclature on pack, consumers are at increased risk of not purchasing vitamin-fortified and enriched foods,” ​according to the petition filed by DSM​ back in October 2017.

In its letter, DSM cited a survey​ conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), which found that 54% of consumers are looking for “a short list of recognizable ingredients, whereas only 33% shared this concern in 2006.”

Hence, the multinational company requested that FDA amend regulations regarding labeling in Nutrition and Supplement Facts panels, as well as ingredient declaration lines, to include an option to use simple vitamin letter names instead of being confined to using the Greek-derived chemical names.

For example, instead of cyanocobalamin, the petition proposes that brands can simply put ‘Vitamin B12’ on the Nutrition Facts Panel and ingredient declaration line.

The above example was exactly the one used by FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s in a recent speech​ addressing the reduction of chronic disease burden in the US. (You can read a full transcript of his speech HERE​)

“We are really excited that Scott Gottlieb was able to mention this in recent comments he made publicly,”​ Duffy MacKay, ND, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at CRN, told NutraIngredients-USA.

“It shows that DSM’s citizen petition got the attention of the higher-ups of FDA, and it’s always reassuring to know that they’re reading our comments and citizen’s petitions.”

Support from General Mills, CRN

Since DSM submitted the Citizen Petition last fall, it has received support from some finished products companies and organizations. It has received five comments so far.

General Mills expressed its support in a comment submitted March 30​, saying that “Increasingly, more consumes are looking for foods with a short list of recognizable ingredients. Unfamiliar vitamin names may lead some consumers away from nutrient-dense foods, which could increase deficiencies of vitamins crucial to the public health.”

Trade group Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) also expressed its support in a comment submitted this week​.

Chemical nomenclature can still be a differentiator

The citizen petition, as well as the comments that support it, only ask for the option to use simple vitamin letter names, not proposing to eliminate the ability to use its chemical nomenclature.

“There are many companies that are proud of the form of nutrient they select, whether it be for absorption, or whether that’s the form demonstrated in research to be beneficial, so that would always be an important differentiator among companies,” ​Duffy MacKay, Sr VP of scientific and regulatory affairs at CRN, told NutraIngredients-USA.

Dr Andrea Wong, VP of scientific and regulatory affairs at CRN, called the regulatory modification ‘prudent.’

She added that DSM’s petition provided “evidence indicating that the mixed common and usual naming conventions for vitamins, as per current regulations, is confusing to consumers and that many consumers do not understand the chemical names of vitamins and may not perceive these names as ‘healthy.’”

Marion Nestle: ‘I do not find the letter designations for B vitamins particularly helpful’

Commenting independently on DSM’s citizen petition, Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, questioned the benefit of such an amendment.

She took issue with DSM’s first sentence in the letter, which said that consumers are “at an increased risk” ​for not purchasing vitamin-fortified and enriched food. “This is a risk? DSM might disagree, but I see little evidence for widespread vitamin deficiency in the US,” ​she told NutraIngredients-USA.

With that said, I am greatly for clarity in nutrition information,” ​however, she does not think the letter designations for B vitamins to be particularly helpful.

“I much prefer the names of the vitamins. Perhaps the FDA could solve this non-problem (for anyone but DSM) by simply saying ‘vitamins: riboflavin, pyridoxine, etc.’”

“What DSM is proposing clutters the label even more than it is now cluttered and is unlikely to benefit the public in any meaningful way,” ​she opined.

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