Norms on probiotic foods soon

The guidelines prepared by ICMR will be released in 2010

Norms on probiotic foods soon


“The guidelines are being prepared by the Indian Council of Medical Research and will be released in 2010,” said former ICMR director-general Nirmal Kumar Ganguly.

Probiotic foods are those which contain adequate amount of specific live and benign microbes that have beneficial impacts on human health. A large number of probiotic dairy products — the current health fad among the diet conscious — are available in all major cities. But in the absence of any regulation, nobody knows the authenticity of their claims and whether they really have any health benefit.

According to the Front and Sullivan’s Food and Beverage report in 2009, probiotics is a $14-billion global industry. Asia and Europe are the two largest producers of probiotics food.

Chocolates

Many a time, health claims of probiotic foods are not substantiated by scientific studies. Chocolates and ice creams are good examples. To create probiotic chocolate or ice creams, bacteria need to be used as “spores” that can withstand extreme high or low temperature.

“But there is not a single scientific study on the use of probiotic bacteria as spores. We do not know whether they have any beneficial effect at all,” said Gregor Reid, a professor at the University of Western Ontario. In September, the European Union approved 10 probiotic products from 180 applicants due to lack of their scientific documentation.

“Last month, 300 new probiotic products entered the US. Possibly 290 of them do not have any scientific studies to back their claims,” said Reid who attended a scientific symposium on probiotics here.

The ICMR guidelines — being prepared by National Institute of Nutrition director S Sesikeran — will be the first step to establish the product standards. A draft of the guidelines has been circulated to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the Department of Biotechnology.

Once the guidelines are ready, the FSSAI will use it to allow probiotic products in the Indian market. The guideline will also recommend a mandatory labelling to help consumers get value for their money. Indian research on probiotics is mostly limited to diarrhoeal diseases.

 “We have studied the influence of probiotics on children and adults. They are beneficial,” said G Balakrish Nair, director of National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases.

Internationally, researches are available to show probiotics’ positive influence on the immune system and in some cases on bladder cancer. “Standards are required to ensure patients receive right probiotic products,” Ganguly said. The probiotic market has grown manifold over the years.

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