French food authority questions CLA safety

Related tags Cla Nutrition Conjugated linoleic acid

A report recommending measures to reduce trans fat consumption in
France raises questions about the safety of conjugated linoleic
acid (CLA), currently being marketed for its weight loss benefits,
and also considered a trans fat by the country's food safety
authority, reports Dominique Patton.

Published on Monday by AFSSA​, the report reviews the evidence showing that trans fats lead to increased risk of heart disease. It recommends a 30 per cent reduction in foods with a high trans-fat content and little nutritional value, such as pastries, chocolate bars and cakes, and also proposes that trans fats be included on product labeling.

CLA is also reviewed as it has the molecular structure of a trans fat. And while current consumption of CLA is not sufficient to recommend specific measures, according to the report, studies showing adverse effects of one of the CLA isomers, trans 10, cis 12, suggests that increased consumption of this ingredient should not be recommended.

The government-funded agency, which has an advisory role but is not involved in legislation, reports that "based on current knowledge, AFSSA considers that the addition of certain mixtures of CLA in foods is not justified, whether in form of supplements or food ingredients".

Katinka Abbenbroek, marketing director at Loders Croklaan Lipid Nutrition, a leading CLA manufacturer along with Germany's Cognis​, says that the agency did not include the most recent data on the ingredient.

The company has now entered into discussions with AFSSA and says the task force behind the paper has underlined that it is open to further debate.

However discussions may slow down further the development of a market for CLA-fortified foods. There are currently no foods with added CLA available in France but the country is Europe's biggest market for CLA supplements, with more than 20 firms offering the fatty acid in capsule form.

The country also has one of Europe's biggest slimming foods markets.

Manufacturers of the ingredient are pushing for CLA's inclusion in foods as this segment offers significantly larger potential than supplements for the ingredient, shown to have good fat reduction properties over the long-term.

Loders Croklaan Lipid Nutrition told last year that it expects food use to more than triple current demand for CLA. However Spain is far the only European market to offer CLA-enriched foods in the form of a dairy range and CLA cookies.

CLA is currently in a regulatory grey area - it is considered a 'new' ingredient by food makers yet has been available in foods before the European Union's 1997 novel foods regulation, suggesting that it should not require safety approval.

The new report from AFSSA will certainly influence decisions of French food makers and could be taken into account by other member states.

The adverse effects of CLA underlined in the report focus largely on the t10,c12 isomer, which has been linked to an increase in oxidative stress markers, and the C-reactive protein, both associated with inflammation.

In a review published in 2003, researchers said that CLA has been found to raise circulating levels of trans fats in the adipose tissue and muscle tissue. The t10,c12 isomer could also increase the risk of diabetes by increasing insulin resistance.

It concludes that while insufficient, the studies suggest that there could be serious public health risks from certain CLA isomers, which should not be authorised in supplement form.

Abbenbroek points out that the US Food and Drug Administration, set to introduce labelling of trans fats in 2006, has excluded CLA from its laws.

The company's Clarinol brand CLA and the Tonalin brand made by Cognis have also gained 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) status in the American market, based on study results such as a safety study on 60 people who took 7.5 grams of Clarinol for one year, without side effects.

A two-year study has also just been published demonstrating the long-term safety of 3.4g of Tonalin CLA daily.

Abbenbroek added that the firm was hoping to work together with the rest of industry to shift the views of the French experts.

She said: "We would prefer to come up with a single point-of-view from the whole industry."

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