Natural-born industry killers

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Flavor

Natural-born industry killers
Ingredients suppliers say demand for 'natural' ingredients is causing major supply issues

The supermarkets' thirst for all things 'natural' is theatening food safety and the environment and driving up costs, without offering consumers any meaningful benefits, ingredients suppliers have warned.

Speaking at a natural colours and flavours conference in London last month, Omega Ingredients md Steve Pearce said: "This is causing major supply issues. If we switch to only using natural raspberry flavour, we'd have to devote half of our agricultural land to raspberry production just to get a tiny percentage of the fruit for 'natural' flavouring. We don't have the space or the raw materials to do this."

Darren Staniforth, founder of Staniforth Consulting, also questioned the environmental impact of moving towards natural flavours and colours: "How sustainable is it to grow fruit for flavours when we only use 1-2% of the fruit and the rest is waste?"

Under proposed changes to European legislation, a far higher percentage (95% compared with the current 90%) of a flavour must be from the named source for firms to use terms such as 'natural strawberry flavour'. The rest can comprise other natural ingredients.

As these 'other' ingredients were often crucial to the final flavour, processors would have to use twice as much to get the same flavour, putting further strain on natural resources, said Baines.

But suppliers' biggest gripe was the "completely erroneous" impression that natural was safe and artificial was not, when in fact the reverse was often true, said consultant Dr David Baines.

Contrary to popular belief, 'nature identical' products that were made synthetically but were chemically identical to their natural counterparts, were typically far safer, he claimed.

Labelling was being driven entirely by what supermarkets believed consumers wanted, when they had no understanding of food chemistry, he argued. And despite the perception that 'cleaning' up labels was being done in consumers' interests, it had little to do with health, nutrition or safety and everything to do with marketing, he claimed.

Meanwhile, labelling legislation that was designed to reassure consumers had backfired spectacularly, said Woolworths QA manager, confectionery, Colin McCoy: "Our customers don't realise that E-numbers can be from natural sources. They tell us we're breaking our 'no artificial colours' promise because there are still E-numbers on our labels."

l Food Manufacture is hosting a free round table debate on 'clean' labelling at Towcester, on November 6. For details: email uryra.ynj@jvyyvnz-errq.pb.hx

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