Our Dependence on Foreign Vitamins

Published on: 13:20PM Jan 29, 2010

by Rick Lundquist, Ph.D.


Recent increases in vitamin D prices are evidence of what can happen when competition in the marketplace is eliminated.

Vitamin D has historically been about $3.00-$3.50/lb.  Now it’s close to $15.00/lb. And rumors are it may go to over $20.00/lb soon. That’s potentially a 600% increase.


Why? European vitamin companies have moved most of their production to China, and the Chinese produce almost all of the world’s needs. They control the market. We don’t make any vitamin D here in the U.S. The same thing has happened with vitamin A and E. It’s mainly manufactured in China. Labor costs and environmental regulations, primarily, have driven all production to places like China and India, where labor is cheap and regulations are lax.


To put this in perspective, these fluctuations in vitamin A & D prices amount to about ¼ cent per cow/day. Recent vitamin E spikes, however, tacked on about a nickel/cow/day at recommended supplementation levels.


Vitamins A, D and E are the only vitamins that are essential for dairy cows. B vitamins, like niacin and biotin, are not essential because the rumen bugs make them but are sometimes supplemented for specific purposes (ketosis, hoof health).  Vitamin A prices are pretty stable now, but a couple of years ago they tripled in price in a short period of time. Vitamin E is also steady now after a sixfold increase a couple of years ago.


We used to think of supplemental vitamins as “cheap insurance,” so we often over-supplement them. It may be a good idea to review your vitamin supplementation with your nutritionist. It could save you some money without any production or health consequences. For example, if you dairy in the Southwest, California or Florida and your cows get plenty of sunshine (not confined inside), you may be able to get by with less vitamin D. If you feed your cows fresh forage from pasture or green chop, you couldn’t buy a better source of vitamin E, B-carotene and vitamin A. Take advantage of contributions from fresh forage and sunshine.     


Normally, when demand declines, we expect prices to decline as well ? as with the grain markets. But with vitamin production in the hands of a few, when demand declines, the producers cut output to decrease supply and increase their prices to maintain their profit margins, much like the oil cartels. Granted, our dependence on foreign vitamins won’t affect our economy like our dependence on foreign oil.

But little by little, the U.S. is losing its manufacturing base. We don’t make much here anymore. We’ve always been able to produce abundant food efficiently. Unfortunately, even U.S. agriculture is becoming dependent on China.


Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. Contact him at [email protected].