The group's ultimate goal is to standardize the testing protocols for the probiotics industry, in order to allow for uniform health claims on food products and supplements containing the 'friendly' bacteria. The non-profit trade group was set up in 2001 by leading companies in the probiotics industry. It became fully active in 2005, and aims to create a network between researchers, academia and industry. Founding members of IPA include players with a significant stake in the probiotics industry: DSM, Danisco, CHR Hansen, Jarrow Formulas, Institut-Rosell Lallemand, Fonterra, Lifeway Foods, Bio-K Plus, Harmonium International, Nature's Way and Nestle Purina. IPA today announced that it now has over 30 industry members, and expects a number of additional companies to join in 2008. Probiotics have become a household term, largely thanks to the marketing efforts of big brands like Yakult and Actimel, which are credited with creating the category. The beneficial bacteria are found naturally in the human gut, and are crucial for good gut health. When an imbalance occurs between probiotic and pathogenic bacteria, the result may be digestive problems such as diarrhea, irregularity or constipation. Regular consumption of probiotics is also said to ward off numerous preconditions for an array of diseases. However, as awareness grows and increasing numbers of probiotic products are launched onto the marketplace to meet growing demand, industry and consumers are faced with a major problem: inconsistency - because not all products labeled as probiotics behave in the same manner. This concern presents a challenge to the bottom line of those manufacturers who practice solid science, as other companies can piggy back off their research and use similar claims. It is also a concern for consumers as they may be missing out on potentially beneficial effects of one product over the defects of another. According to IPA, the very nature of probiotics is what has resulted in regulatory agencies staying well away from the establishment of regulatory guidelines. "These are live cultures. You can't easily have a standard process - you can't force bacteria to grow one way or the other," IPA executive director Ioannis Misopoulos told NutraIngredients-USA.com. However, the group is working on developing uniform testing protocols, which could help regulatory agencies establish guidelines for probiotic products on the marketplace. Another aim of the organization is to launch a probiotic seal, which could be used by manufacturers to flag up their products as containing the healthy bacteria. In order to qualify for using the golden seal, companies will have to use the consensus manufacturing process, explained Misopoulos. However, the seal would take at least five years to develop because of the time necessary to find the best testing methods for probiotics. Indeed, the probiotics market in the US, which has grown exponentially in the past few years, is predicted to still have significant room to grow for those companies that can effectively communicate the benefits of the ingredient to consumers. The concept of friendly bacteria first gained foothold in Europe and has slowly made its way over to the US where, according to Euromonitor data, the probiotic spoonable yoghurt market alone went from $112m in 2001 to $294m in 2006. The European food and beverage probiotics market is expected to more than double by 2013, according to Frost & Sullivan. The Strategic Analysis of the European Food and Beverage Probiotics Market, says the market is expected to rise from its 2006 position of $61.7m to $163.5m by 2013. IPA will this year hold its first annual conference, which it says will be unique in that it is the first time a meeting will target industry, healthcare and academia all under one umbrella. The IPA World Congress will take place on April 11th - 12th 2008 in Beverly Hills, California. For more information, click here.