Victoria promotes probiotic industry and poses a dilemma for Canberra

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 26th June 2012

The Victorian food industry is experiencing a boom in live micro-organisms. Probiotics is the name of the game. Probiotics are ‘friendly bacteria’ with beneficial health effects being claimed for consumers.

Victoria has become the base for some of Australia’s biggest players in probiotics.

Dandenong-based Yakult, a Japanese brand, produces the very popular Yakult fermented milk drink.

Also based near Melbourne, the Danone-Murray Goulburn joint-venture’s Activia brand of yoghurt is marketed for its probiotic qualities.

The newest probiotic product out of a Victorian-based company is the Healthy Life Probiotic fruit juice that has been launched by international food giant Heinz, from its Golden Circle juice division. Heinz’s Healthy Life Probiotic Juice is reported to be Australia’s first fruit juice probiotic product. Its marketing and label says that the consumers’ natural defences are supported.

Health benefits being widely promoted

Yakult say that probiotics improve the overall balance of bacteria in the digestive system. According to studies cited from the “Yakult Central Institute for Microbiological Research”, as referred to on Yakult’s website, a 65mL bottle of Yakult fermented milk drink contains sufficient bacteria to “favourably alter the balance of bacteria in the digestive system”.

Its competitor Activia states that Activia’s proprietary probiotic Bifidus ActiRegularis™ culture in its yoghurt is “specially formulated to improve digestive comfort such as feeling bloated”.

Heinz promises a different benefit with its Golden Circle Healthy Life Probiotic Juice. It says the proprietary probiotic combination Probi Defendum™ in the product is “clinically shown to support the body’s natural defences when taken daily”. Probi Defendum™ is said to be a combination of two specific strains of bacteria, Lactobacillus paracasei 8700:2 and Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL 9.

Each of the above products is sold as a food rather than as a listed therapeutic good.

European attitude on probiotics

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) currently does not officially recognise the health effect of probiotics. A study published in EFSA Journal in 2010 stated that “a cause and effect relationship has not been established between the consumption of the food(s)/food constituent(s) evaluated in this opinion and a beneficial physiological effect related to increasing numbers of gastro-intestinal microorganisms.” More work is still to be done by EFSA.

Australian food regulatory officials’ dilemma

Encouragement of the Australian food manufacturing industry appears to be creating a dilemma for some food regulatory officials, not only in Victoria but also elsewhere.

Currently, the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code has a transitional Health Claim Standard (Clause 1.1A.2 of the said Code) that prohibits health claims.

Canberra-based Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is currently still to confirm a final version of a new Health Claims Standard 1.2.7.

Upcoming FoodLegal Symposium on Health Claims

Australian Food News has just become aware that specialist food law compliance experts FoodLegal  have organised a FoodLegal Symposium to be held in Sydney as a half-day event on the morning of 21 August 2012 about Health Claims and Food Innovation issues. More information is available here.