'It’s taken a year to explain our chondroitin doesn’t come from carcasses left out in the sun': Danish supplier

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

Danish supplier sets sights on yoghurts and bars after its chondroitin is OK'd in the EU in functional foods
Danish supplier sets sights on yoghurts and bars after its chondroitin is OK'd in the EU in functional foods

Related tags Chondroitin sulfate Material European union

Danish firm ZPD has won EU food approval for its chondroitin sulfate – a process that has been riddled by misapprehension and prejudice, the company says.

The company already had approval for its chondroitin sulfate for pharmaceuticals as an API ingredient, but has now proved successful in its year-long effort to gain food approval for use in food supplements and food products like yoghurts and bars across the EU. The company says it is the first company in Europe to do so. 

Martin Larkenas, chief commercial officer for the firm which is part of Japanese Zeria Pharmaceuticals, told NutraIngredients that the Danish food authority was at first reluctant to issue the approval due to concerns over chondroitin sourcing and quality control.

ZPD’s chondroitin sulfate is derived from edible co-products​ of European bovine and pork, meaning it comes from 'discards' fit for human consumption. He said the company had faced “quite some problems” ​explaining to the food authority that the ingredient met their strict requirements for food, since its pharmaceutical chondroitin sulfate came from category 3 materials. Category 3 material​ covers animal by-products intended and not intended for human consumption, which is not permitted for use in food products. Since the firm uses both types of materials in its factories it had to prove to the authority that there would be no mix up between the two.  

“The issue they had was that they said the [pharma] chondroitin sulfate was produced from category 3, which in many cases does not have traceability. But we are tracing from high-level sources.

“Category 3 was in their eyes a sort of waste material. But it’s not at all. I think they had an image of it standing in the sun outside the slaughter house.”

The approval, which covered issues like hygiene and quality management systems, saw the company awarded the ‘elite’ category in the authority’s smiley-face ranking system - awarded to enterprises with only ‘happy smiles’ on their last four inspection reports and no remarks during the last 12 months. ZPD can now use the logo in its marketing.

Casting off aspersions

This year the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) changed import regulation​ for animal-sourced chondroitin, as well as glucosamine and chitosan, following concerns over the quality of those ingredients coming into the EU from China. The new rules meant animal versions may only come from EU facilities that had been subject to strict checks and added to an approved list.

At the time the EU and other member states were said to be looking at the UK’s position, which only covered the raw material not finished products, with the possibility of enforcing similar measures across the bloc.

He said traceability of such raw materials from markets like China was much more of a “grey zone” ​compared to EU sources, ​an issue raised in the company’s discussions with the authority.

“We were sad about China being able to import, and us with high-class suppliers being limited. The main problem was they [the Danish authority] didn’t understand. We spent a lot of time meeting and opening up the books to make sure they got the full picture.”

Opening up functional opportunities

With food approval ZPD is now looking at the possibility of formulation with food products like supplements, yoghurt and sports nutrition bars, for which it would now be able to supply the ingredient but not make the end products. Larkenas said functional yoghurt was a particularly interesting segment, with the company now in discussion with some big dairy groups even though the materials would not be ready until early 2015.

He noted that bovine-derived chondroitin proved particularly popular in Europe when compared to pork varieties since it was marketable to consumers of all religions. 

Amendment: This article was amended 11/09/14 to clarify the difference between edible co-products and third category materials. The original article suggested ZPD used third materials for food, when in fact this only applied to the firm's pharmaceutical range. 

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