We are eating ourselves to death

CHR Hansen Pty Ltd
By Roy Con Foo, CEO, Chr. Hansen Pty Ltd
Tuesday, 06 June, 2006

Although the refrigerated display counters at the supermarkets abound in healthy food items, we are eating an increasingly greater amount of unhealthy foods. Functional food products might be the answer to this paradox; however, it requires that the rules for making health claims on functional food products soften up and demands for documentation tighten up accordingly.

We have one of the world's greatest selections of healthy raw products and food, in addition to a food sector which boasts a very efficient system for risk assessment, control and product approval. Also, researchers, authorities and other experts are available to give recommendations and advise us on how to put together our daily diet so that it is as beneficial as possible. Yet, we are, literally speaking, eating ourselves to death, also seen in relation to a drastic decline in our daily physical activities. Cardiovascular diseases, having been the most commonly occurring disease over the past couple of decades, are now quickly being overrun by a global obesity epidemic.

One could call it a 'lifestyle paradox', and there is unfortunately no doubt that it will be a serious challenge to change the current situation. This is where functional foods may very well come in handy. Imagine if we could develop a thoroughly healthy and disease-preventing food product - with the exact same consumer appeal as some high profile branded soft drinks.

Functional food products

Functional food products are foods that by the help of biotechnology and other high-technological methods are developed to not only satiate and taste good, but also to serve other purposes. In other words, it is food that has been especially developed to have certain health-promoting and disease-preventing properties.

Research, to a large extent, can contribute to better insight in the optimal diet composition, and thus, also contribute with knowledge about what properties that can advantageously be removed or added to food products. This knowledge is essential for developing food products with health-promoting and disease-preventing effects.

Chr. Hansen, for instance, is making progress in the production of a probiotic (health-promoting) bacterial strain for use in the production of yoghurt. This bacterial strain Cardi-04 is known for having a beneficial impact on the biochemical processes that lead to elevated blood pressure. The company is hopeful that such probiotic bacterial products, by means of close collaboration with customers from the food industry, will be used in the production of food that lowers or prevents elevated blood pressure, which may cause cerebral hemorrhage and coronary thrombosis, among other illnesses.

The efficacy and safety of Cardi-04 has been proven in both animal and human trials (unpublished). The product is claimed to reduce the blood pressure through the inhibition of the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) activity (by preventing contraction of the blood vessels). As a result, the heart works more efficiently.

The medical profession is obviously a major stakeholder in such a concept and will be important both before and after the Cardi-04 concept is launched in a market. The profession seems to agree that a reduction of blood pressure is a benefit to more than 99% of all people and that a concept like Cardi-04 can potentially have a huge impact on the general cardiovascular health of people and thereby on the quality of life and not the least on the medical bill. The question will be whether regulators and policy makers will be willing to listen to such advice and make it possible for the food industry to provide adequate information to consumers on the benefit of Cardi-04. With the recent enlargement of the EU, it must be anticipated that there will be a trend towards majority vote on issues like claims on food rather than allowing any country to block a decision for whatever political reason. In any case, Chr. Hansen will bring the Cardi-04 concept to the EU BtB market in the near future.

Documentation in lieu of banning

Today, there is a ban against food manufacturers making health claims on the functional properties of food products. To leverage food's functionality and to enable human beings and the economy to utilise the many new opportunities this entails, it is necessary to ease this ban.

Instead, food manufacturers ought to meet requirements, such as providing reliable and solid documentation on their products and their functionalities - as the foundation for making reasonable health claims. Not least, as it is reliability and information that make consumers decide on what products to put in their food carts in the long run. It is therefore crucial to intensify the cooperation between researchers, industries, authorities and consumers in this area.

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