Demand for artificial sweeteners taking a nosedive

The IHS Chemical Economics Handbook reports in its High Intensity Sweeteners Report that growth of artificial sweeteners (eg. sucralose, aspartame, saccharin) has “slowed to near zero in North America and Europe, due, in part, to the decline in soft drink consumption in these regions.” Demand remains strong in South America and Asia. The artificial sweetener industry is a $2 billion dollar industry that relies on the production and consumption of diet carbonated soft drinks and low-calorie food – things that have been popular in the past due to obesity concerns. However Marifaith Hackett, director of specialty chemicals research at IHS Chemical and principal author of the handbook, states that “Health-conscious consumers are drinking fewer sodas” and “are seeking out beverages and foods made with natural ingredients”.  This consumer power is driving increased interest in natural sweeteners, and although demand for the likes of stevia extract are quite small when compared to that of the more established sweeteners, Hackett expects it to reach 3000 to 4000 metric tons annually by 2018.

Antibiotics in early life increases obesity risk

A new study published in Cell suggests that disrupting the intestinal microbiota of babies and young children with antibiotics could have long-lasting metabolic effects and also increase the risk of obesity in adulthood. Researchers ay NYU Langone Medical Centre developed a mouse model of microbe-induced obesity (MIO) showing that antibiotic treatment (in this case penicillin) around weaning led to increased adiposity. From the research they indicated a number of characteristics of MIO, such as; early life is the critical window for lasting metabolic changes; even with exposures limited to infancy, obesity emerges later; and penicillin exposures intensify diet-induced obesity (DIO). Lead researcher, Martin Blaser, told Foodnavigator “This highlights a need for judicious use of antibiotics in clinical practice in early life.” He and his colleagues noted that it is the alteration of gut bacteria, rather than the use of antibiotics per se that caused the metabolic changes, and that their “findings imply that restoring good bacteria could prevent the long-term metabolic effects of early antibiotic exposure.”

US trade organisation set up to define the word ‘natural’

A new trade organisation, the Organic and Natural Health Alliance (ONHA) has been created in the USA with the purpose of defining what 'natural' means. The organisation "plans to go about defining that attribute in a way that is unique in the natural products business in that it will take consumers' views into account". We acknowledge that ONHA intends this to be an open and transparent process, but we sincerely hope that "a series of meetings with stakeholders" doesn't end up handing over the biggest influence to the largest, and often most 'unnatural', players in the food industry. Industry is often afflicted by ‘the deepest pockets, biggest voice’ syndrome and the race will be on now to get the new ‘natural’ stamp onto products. ONHA are going to have their work cut out for them if they’re to stand strong and prevent the same twisting and contorting of the term ‘natural’ as has happened for ‘organic’

ANH-Intl executive and scientific director Rob Verkerk explored this subject area back in 2010 in his feature entitled, “What is ’natural'?", which “takes us on a multidisciplinary journey, through physics, chemistry and biology, and, ultimately, perhaps he raises more questions than he answers!”.

China halts GMO rice and corn crop permits

China’s Ministry of Agriculture has apparently decided not to renew its permits for developing genetically modified rice and corn. Approval certificates were issued for the crops in 2009. Some environmentalists believe that the U-turn was made as a result of a recent public outcry over the discovery of genetically modified rice in a large supermarket not far from the Huazhong Agricultural University, where the product was being developed. Sale of GM rice on the open market in China is illegal. RT.Com said “According to the South China Morning Post, state television commissioned tests on five packets of rice, which were picked at random, and found three contained genetically-modified rice”. 

A Beijing-based Greenpeace official is said to have written the following in an email to Science Insider: “We believe that loopholes in assessing and monitoring [GMO] research, as well as the public concern around safety issues are the most important reasons that the certifications have not been renewed”. Cong Cao, an associate professor at the UK University of Nottingham allegedly wrote in a journal entitled ‘The Conversation’, that the move “signals a major blow to the fight to establish GM food in China”. Huang Jikun, the chief scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences stated that, “China is reaching self-sufficiency in terms of rice production, so therefore there is no point in producing genetically modified versions”.

A positive and a negative for GM

Good news from Russia. The Cabinet has now approved a new bill that will introduce heavy fines for any violation regarding the rules on obligatory labelling of foodstuffs containing genetically-modified products (GMOs). Any failure to display the mandatory information or distort the information will result in fines between 20,000 and 150,000 rubles (US$555 - $4150). Russian legislators and officials from the Agriculture Ministry previously complained that the regulations concerning GM products lacked proper enforcement and suggested a temporary ban on all genetically-altered products in Russia. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said that Russia will create its own research base for GMOs to supply expert information and therefore help further legislative movements and executive decisions. He also warned against perceiving the GMO products as “absolute evil,” noting that the government did not support their use in the food industry and that Russian initiators want to make the maximum allowed content of transgenic and genetically modified components zero.

Bad news for for Hawaii. Federal Judge, Barry Kurren, sided with four major seed companies making a Kauai County law invalid. The law would have required companies to disclose their use of pesticides and genetically modified crops. Syngenta Seeds, DuPont Pioneer, Agrigenetics Inc., doing business as Dow AgroSciences, and BASF Plant Sciences argued the ordinance unfairly targeted their industry. Attorney Margery Bronster, who represented two of the companies, said "I think they [Kauai County] wasted time, effort and money trying to fight for a law they had no right to pass in the first place." Councilman Gary Hooser, who co-authored the bill, described the companies as “billion-dollar corporations determined not to follow the rules of Kauai County.”


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