The UK Food Standards Agency is canvassing views on the use of chia seeds after a novel foods application from the Chia Company to market them in baked goods, breakfast cereals, and fruit, nut and seed mixes.
The Australian company already has authorisation, under the novel food regulations, to market the latin American seed (Salvia hispanica) in bread products at a maximum level of 5 per cent.
Grown commercially in Latin America and Australia, chia is a summer annual herbaceous plant belonging to the mint family. Chia seed is rich in omega-3 and omega-6.
It is considered a novel food because it does not have a significant history of consumption within the EU before 15 May 1997. Before new food products can be introduced on the European market, they must be assessed for safety. In the UK, this is carried out by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), an independent committee of scientists appointed by the FSA.
Comments on the novel foods application for chia should reach the advisory committee by Monday 30 May 2011. The committee could either request more information from the company or issue a view on the application which would then be sent to regulatory authorities across the EU
Meanwhile, chia seed first received novel foods approval in Europe in late 2009, more than six years after the application was lodged. The approval confirmed that the ancient grain can be incorporated into bread products at levels up to five per cent of a product’s total matter.
The application in 2003 was submitted by Irish egg producer Robert Craig & Sons but was transferred to Columbus Paradigm Institute which resubmitted the dossier in collaboration with Chilean firm, Functional Products Trading in 2006.
The FSA found the seed to be safe in 2004 but further data was requested following member states’ questions about toxicology and allergenicity.
A branded version of chia, called Benexia, from Functional Products Trading is distributed by French firm Ingredia Nutitional in Europe and Pharmachem-owned Proprietary Nutritionals in North America.
Ancient grains and cereals have enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, as consumers buy more less processed ingredients and focus on the nutritional value of foods.
A 2008 Datamonitor report confirmed the global launch of 515 new products that contained ancient grains in 2007, doubling the 257 launches recorded two years previously.