Food supplements are foodstuffs and serve to supplement the normal human diet.
- Food supplements must have a nutritional or physiological effect.
- However, they cannot replace a varied diet.
- Food supplements are concentrates for ingestion in small, measured quantities and are taken in dosed form.
- They may only be supplied to consumers in packaged form.
Typical value-determining ingredients are vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids or plant constituents.
Taking dietary supplements only makes sense for certain groups of people
For the healthy average population, the consumption of food supplements is not necessary from a nutritional point of view. Only for certain groups of people (e.g. women who wish to have children, pregnant women, high-performance athletes, people with very unbalanced eating habits, vegans) can the temporary consumption of food supplements be useful. Sick persons should always discuss the consumption with the attending physician.
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Food supplements are not medicines
Dietary supplements are foods, not medicines. However, they differ from other foods due to the dosage and also the form of administration, such as capsules or tablets. The purpose of food supplements is to supplement the diet or to provide a specific supply of certain food ingredients and not to cure, alleviate or prevent diseases, ailments or pathological conditions.
Situation in Austria
In order to ensure the safety of food supplements, an average of approximately 450 samples of food supplements have been officially inspected annually in recent years. The results are published each year in theFood Safety Report. Approximately one third of the samples were objected to mainly due to labeling deficiencies such as incorrect claims or unauthorized health claims.
Frequent reasons for complaints based on the composition were deviations of the analytically determined nutrient contents from the declared values.
Food supplements were mostly assessed as "not safe - unsuitable for human consumption" due to an excessively high content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in the case of microbial contamination or in the case of excessively high vitamin contents, which led to maximum levels being exceeded according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Food supplements classified as "not safe - harmful to health" often contained excessive levels of vitamins or zinc, leading to massive exceedance of maximum levels. Contamination with pathogenic (human pathogenic) bacterial strains - especially in the case of plant powders e.g. Salmonella - also led to this assessment.
Among "other reasons" for objections to food supplements are products containing unauthorized and thus unacceptable ingredients based on Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 on novel foods ("Novel Foods").
Food supplements are also repeatedly investigated as part of priority actions:
- Food supplements for children
- Suspected drug substances in cosmetic products and food supplements
- Herbal-based dietary supplements (detox and superfood products)
- Food supplements based on plants, plant parts or extracts
- "Detox and superfood" products
- Dietary supplements for athletes
- GMOs, vitamins and dyes in dietary supplements for athletes
- Do not exceed stated recommended daily dose
- Do not use food supplements as a substitute for a varied diet
- Keep out of reach of small children
- Use only by healthy persons in special life situations, e.g. women of childbearing potential, pregnant women, high-performance athletes, persons with very unbalanced dietary habits, vegans.
- Sick persons should consult their attending physician before taking the product.
- Caution is advised when purchasing dietary supplements, especially via the Internet, especially if they are supposed to cure various diseases such as cancer. If the labeling is not in German or the product is advertised as a "miracle cure", a critical examination is advisable. If necessary, individual advice from specialists such as doctors, pharmacists, druggists or nutritionists is recommended.
Labeling (mandatory information)
As with all foods, misleading and disease-related claims are prohibited when marketing dietary supplements. The labeling, presentation and advertising must not contain any statement claiming or giving the impression that the intake of adequate amounts of nutrients is not possible in a balanced, varied diet. Food supplements must also not contain any "cosmetic" recommendation for use (e.g. for application to the skin).
Mandatory labeling of food supplements in addition to the labeling elements of foods in general according to theFood Information Regulation (LMIV) are:
- Name of the labeling nutrients or other substances.
- Consumption recommendation about the recommended daily intake.
- Warning that the stated recommended daily intake must not be exceeded.
- A statement that dietary supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied diet.
- A further note that the products must be stored out of the reach of small children.
A checklist with the mandatory labeling of food supplements can be found under Downloads.
Nutrition and health claims
Health claims such as "Calcium is needed to maintain normal bones" can be used if they are scientifically proven and expressly permitted by the Health Claims Regulation, which currently numbers around 250 (EU Register of Health Claims). Food manufacturers have had to have these approved by the EU since 2012. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is responsible for reviewing health claims.
Nutrition claims must comply with the requirements of chapters II, III and the annex of the "Health Claims Regulation".
Disease-related claims, i.e. claims attributing to a food or food supplement properties of prevention, treatment or cure of a human disease, are prohibited within the overall presentation of food supplements, which includes modern electronic communication media, e.g. "Regular consumption of adequate amounts of calcium reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis in old age".
Notification, registration or notification of food supplements has not been required in Austria since 2006.
As the legal requirements for the labeling and composition of food supplements are extremely complex due to their different nature, it is generally recommended to seek expert advice from accredited experts before manufacturing or labeling.
More detailed information on the subject of food inspection can be found on the homepage of the Consumer Health Communication Platform.
Official certificates can be applied for at the Federal Office of Consumer Health (BAVG). You can find more information here.
Delimitation Advisory Board
The Delimitation Advisory Board was established at the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Long-Term Care and Consumer Protection (BMSGPK) to prepare expert opinions on delimitation issues of medicinal products from other products. The Delimitation Advisory Board acts exclusively on behalf of the BMSGPK or the Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG). In order to place a product on the market, an application can be submitted to the BASG. Afterwards, an expert opinion of the Delimitation Advisory Board is issued.
However, no statement is made as to whether the product may be placed on the market in the intended use in accordance with the legal requirements. The examination of the marketability of products is therefore not the task of the expert opinion of the Delimitation Advisory Board.
Last updated: 02.02.2023