"It is now the objective of the gelatin industry to work closely with legislation makers to change BSE restrictions in a way to reflect these positive statements accordingly," Stephan Ruhm, spokesperson for global gelatin producing giant Gelita, told NutraIngredients-USA.com.
Gelatin, which can be used in formulating dietary supplements and tablets, has been denounced as a potential bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) carrier. This has left formulators wondering if they should switch to plant-based capsules to prevent consumers - who fear contracting the rare human variant of BSE, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease - turning away from their products.
Last week the National Health Products Directory (NHPD), a branch of Health Canada, tightened its policy on gelatin for use in supplements, a decision that coincided with a confirmed BSE case in Manitoba and a second possible case in Alberta.
In its announcement, the NHPD said it "strongly encourages" manufacturers to use materials known to be safe, including plant materials, gelatin from certain animal bones, skin or hide. However, industry insiders assure there is no danger in bovine gelatin - whatever parts are used - and regulatory bodies in other countries seem to agree.
Ruhm pointed out that the new Canadian regulations over what parts may or may not be used for gelatin differ from those of both Europe and the United States.
In 2006, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that removal of skull and vertebrae is not necessary to produce safe gelatin. And in 2003, the US Food & Drug Administration concluded that it concurred with research showing that, even under worst case conditions, gelatin manufacturing processing is sufficient to protect human health.
A Dutch study conducted in 2004 has also been used repeatedly in the industry's defense. It found that traditional acid and alkaline processes used in manufacturing bovine bone gelatin "reduced BSE infectivity to undetectable levels". The study, published in the journal Biotechnology and Applied Biochemistry, used "worst case conditions" that did not reflect the type or quality of materials normally used in the process.
"Taking all these safety statements together one can conclude that gelatin is an absolutely safe product," said Ruhm.
Supplement formulators have already begun moving towards plant-based capsules to meet demand - a trend that ingredients suppliers have picked up on, introducing vegetarian versions of popular nutrients.
Lukas Christian, global product manager for beta-carotene at DSM Nutritional Products (which has a portfolio of non-animal alternatives to popular ingredients) told NutraIngredients.com earlier this year he believes the demand stems not so much from growing numbers of traditional vegetarians, but from people who are concerned about diseases in certain animal species.
Christian expects vegetarian ingredients to become more than a niche over the next five to 10 years, representing 30 to 50 percent of all ingredients.
The gelatin industry's efforts to defend itself against a campaign that is detrimental to its business date back to 1992, when BSE in cattle reached epidemic levels in the United Kingdom.
At that time the industry quickly came under fire from media, consumers and regulatory authorities over the safety of the bovine-sourced form of its product.
Gelita produces 75,000 tons of gelatin every year, which it says is nearly 28 percent of the world market.