Rosemary as antioxidant up for regulatory inclusion

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Rosemary extracts, European union

Antioxidant rosemary extracts are expected to be included in existing regulation on food additives while FIAP is being implemented, which will allow high purity extracts to go head-to-head with synthetic antioxidants in food products.

EFSA granted a positive opinion on the safety of rosemary extracts as antioxidants in June. Antioxidants can help increase product shelf life and stability when added to food, by slowing down or preventing the oxidation of molecules.

The new Food Improvements Agents Package (FIAP) covering food additives is expected to come into law towards the end of this year or beginning of next, as an agreement has been reached between the European Commission, Parliament and Council.

However a final amendment to the outgoing regulation (95/2/EC) by comitology is allowed, so that ingredients that have received positive safety views can be legally authorised for use as soon as possible - without having to wait for FIAP implementation.

Rosemary extracts are expected to be included in that amendment, according to Nigel Baldwin, senior scientific and regulatory consultant at Cantox, who has acted as coordinator of the European Rosemary Extract Manufacturers Group.

He told that there are a number of ingredients that have received positive views from EFSA in the last two years, but which have not been voted into use because the FIAP regulation has been in the process.

Baldwin is not expecting a lot of debate over the inclusion of rosemary. However a Commission spokesperson was unable to confirm the position or timeline for the amendment in time for publication of this article.

Purity standards

The EFSA opinion was positive in terms of safety, but said that more specifications were needed on exactly what rosemary extracts the applicants were proposing should be permitted.

The extracts used in the toxicology studies were high purity, solvent extracts, which were supplied by the companies behind the European Rosemary Extract Manufacturers Group – Naturex, Raps and Robertet. (Danisco was also a member of the group at the beginning).

Baldwin said that the group has supplied the amended specifications. He was not able to give details at this time as they need to be discussed with the Commission, but confirmed that water-based extracts are definitely excluded.

This is because the toxicology studies all used solvent-based extracts (using acetone, supercritical carbon dioxide, ethanol, and hexane and ethanol), and the active ingredients are “significantly different”​. Water-based extracts have high levels of rosmaric acid, whereas solvent-based extracts have high levels of carnosic acid and carnosol.

Protection of the purest

Baldwin said that there is definitely a desire on the part of the group to protect the investment its members have made on putting together the science on the extracts’ safety – amounting to “hundreds of thousands of [British] pounds”​ over the last 11 years.

While any company that does meet the strict specifications would be able to compete in the marketplace alongside the group members, companies with inferior extracts would be precluded from marketing them on antioxidant grounds.

The need for approval

The legal approval will allow ingredients firms to position their antioxidant rosemary extracts in the market alongside synthetic antioxidant, thus catering to the demand for natural foods.

In the past, rosemary has been used as a flavouring, when it became apparent that it was being used more for its antioxidant capabilities than as a flavour, regulatory bodies in some EU member states indicated to the industry that it needed to show moves towards gaining approval for that use.

A key area of debate, Baldwin said, has been “at what point it stops being a flavour and starts being an antioxidant​”. This depends largely on the level of deordorisation – although he admitted that even the most deodorised extracts still have a strong smell.

The article has been amended. The original version implied that the amendments would be to the approved version of FIAP, and not to the outgoing regulation 95/2/EC. FoodNavigator apologises for the misunderstanding.

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