Call for UK to get behind non-GMO soy lecithin as firm gets sustainable supply validation

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

Call for retailers to back push for sustainable, non-GMO soy
Call for retailers to back push for sustainable, non-GMO soy
The UK food sector remains ‘undecided’ about non-GMO soy lecithin compared to the level of demand that exists in other European markets said CERT ID as Thew Arnott becomes the first UK supplier to get ProTerra backing on sustainable sourcing of the ingredient. 

The raw materials and ingredients producer, Thew Arnott, is now flagging up the sustainability of its lecithin supply to the UK following validation under the ProTerra Chain of Custody Certification scheme.

Lecithin is used in foods as an emulsifier, keeping oil from separating with water. It is also a stabilizer, and antioxidant. It is found in many foods from chocolate, ice cream, baked goods, margarine, mayonnaise, infant formulas, meat sauces and gravies, to instant drink mixes.

Under the scheme, Thew Arnott’s LeciTAs PT range can be traced back to a sustainable source with each delivery certified, said the company.

The UK ingredients supplier’s certification is currently only with Brazilian soy processors but it said it is engaging with Indian soy growers to ensure the sustainability of their supply in the near future.

EU demand

Lecithin is a by-product of soybean processing, but the challenge with producing lecithin is that a large volume of soybeans must be crushed to produce just a small amount of lecithin.

Currently the EU market demand for the non-GMO version is around 60,000 tonnes per year with ProTerra saying it is certifying 50% of that.

Consumer interest for foods produced from non-GMO sources is particularly strong in markets such as Germany, France, Switzerland and Scandinavia - less so in the UK.

But Richard Werran, MD of Cert IT, the company which originally developed the ProTerra standard, told that mixed messages coming from UK industry regarding non-GMO soy lecithin is not helping to stimulate the availability of even greater quantities of non-GMO soy products and he urging UK supermarkets to lead on the issue in that market.

“UK retailers are remarkably gun-shy on policy statements in terms of GMO food and feed. But we need the UK chains to come on board, awaken demand, allay consumer fears and influence the production and supply flow of responsible, sustainable, non-GMO,”​ he added. 

Werran claims the strength of ProTerra Certification helps mitigate brands’ exposure and liability related to GMOs and the full range of social and environmental issues.

Consumer-facing logo

And he said that a new ProTerra logo developed for the retail end to help shoppers identify on-pack brands that are produced without GMOs will also boost retailer efforts in this regard: “Summer 2012 will see a major European food brand to be the first to carry the new trustmark.”

The Cert ID MD also emphasized the stability in current pricing of non-GMO soy lecithin with affordability then not something food manufacturers can cite as a barrier to take-up, he argues.

Interestingly, it is the migration of some suppliers to alternatives to soy lecithin such as sunflower that has brought about this reduction in pricing volatility, said Werran.

“However, it probably doesn’t make a lot of commercial sense to supply such alternatives with big users of soy lecithin, in particular chocolate and confectionery makers, reluctant to make a switch to alternatives due to the formulation and taste challenges involved,”​ he added.

Some industry insiders say the GMO issue is a moot point with lecithin because the purification process to produce it may remove all traces of protein and DNA and therefore makes it difficult to determine its GMO status.

But Werran stresses that this is where the effectiveness of certifying is demonstrated, with the ProTerra scheme able to ensure the material is fully traceable and can meet EU labelling regulation on non-GMO.

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