Sunday, 19 September 2010

A Little Larch Wood With Your Mince Anyone?

Hail the Taxi-fo-lin: Going Anywhere Nice?

Updated on 10 December 2010

An update on this application is now available on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website here.  My main concern with this application as stated below was more of an environmental concern than a food safety one (although, I would rather not have to eat anything with larch wood in it!). The question was put to the applicant of whether the environmental impact of felling of Dahurian Larch (Larix gmelini) for food could be explained.  Contrary to the position depicted in the application, the applicant replied that it would only use larch tree stumps that are basically left-over's from other logging industries.  In addition, the company made assurances that larch saplings would be planted in place of the stumps.  Although it is suspect because of the change of stance and the unlikely possibility of being followed up, it is a welcome declaration.

The proposed purpose of marketing taxifolin in the UK as stated in the application to the Food Standards Agency under the Novel Foods Regulation is to add it as a food ingredient because of antioxidant properties with anti-inflammatory action (see FSA link). First of all, not everyone needs or wants these qualities added to foods such as those proposed, e.g., dried milk, biscuits or ground meat. Secondly, this is a disputed benefit. There is professional opinion that antioxidants are unhelpful to our health. In addition, why would a healthy person require added anti-inflammatory action or added cardiovascular protection? This product would be more suitable as a dietary supplement as it already is in Russia (the applicant's place of business) or even as an additive to a medicinal product. If it has the capability of prolonging the shelf-life of a product, an application could be made to add it to the additives list for this purpose.

I would further comment that the proposed labelling would include―taxifolin from larch wood. But what does this mean to the average consumer? If it is intended as a health benefit, how is this to be conveyed to the consumer?
At XI.1 it is stated that “[i]t is expected that the taxifolin extracted from Larch wood is nutritionally equivalent to naturally occurring taxifolin.” First of all, if this product is taken from the bark of the Larch tree as it is claimed, it is naturally occurring. But secondly, although it may be naturally occurring, the quantity and frequency of use proposed as an addition to our food is not. But I am confident that the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) will look into this in detail and advise the FSA accordingly.

The only other point I would add is that there is a very important environmental perspective to this application. Taxifolin if derived from the sawdust of Larch trees. At one point the applicant claims that the Larch trees are grown in ecologically clean areas, without
 the application of pesticides. However, the part of the application I quote below in addition to the comment that the wood is harvested by experienced collectors, who are trained to recognize the appropriate tree without doubt, show that naturally growing trees are to be harvested.


Habitat
Larix gmelinii (Rupr.) Rupr. grows in Siberia and the Russian Far East, which are recognized worldwide to be of very high environmental and ecological importance. The vast geographical area of Larix gmelinii (Rupr.) Rupr. shows the large ecological plasticity of this species and its high adaptability to different natural conditions found in the boreal Eurasian zone as well as in transition to typical temperate forests. Larch trees establish both the southern and the northern timberlines and carry out water- and soil-conservation functions in mountain regions. In addition, Larix species are regarded as a large carbon sink. Due to their unique seed dispersion patterns and very high adaptability to the fires that often affect Siberian forests, these Larch species occupy post-fire habitats successfully (Zyryanova, et al. 2007).
Although the trees are in Siberia and Russian Far East, removal or damage of this natural habitat would add to global warming especially since the forests “are regarded as a large carbon sink.” Unfortunately, the applicant did not follow up with any information about how this habitat is to be maintained when it is proposed to fell more Larch trees to produce more taxifolin. It is doubtful whether taxifolin as a food ingredient can be proven to be a cost effective footprint on the earth’s ecosystem unless strict measures are followed to reinstate and protect it. At the very least, the FSA should enquire about this before entertaining an endorsement of the application.

I would recommend rejecting this application on the basis that the perceived benefits of adding taxifolin to food are not universally agreed by professional healthcare providers as accurate and there appears to be no other purpose to it. Furthermore, without further information about the sustainability of the enterprise, the environmental impact is likely to be unacceptable.

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