Enzyme manufacturers have spent decades developing and perfecting their fermentation processes and many view these processes (including the growth media) as proprietary, and that understandable secretiveness has complicated getting a handle on the potential non GMO compliance of enzymes. Hope Hanley, VP of regulatory and scientific affairs for Deerland Enzymes, a supplier that has been hailed as having an excellent grasp of the non-GMO issue, laid out some of the major hurdles.
What they are, and what they eat
Two things would need to be established for a non GMO certification of an enzyme: whether a genetically-modified microorganism was used to spit out a precursor molecule or the enzyme itself and what those microorganism were fed while they did their work.
“It’s a common misconception that enzyme products are GMO, due to some enzymes’ association with food processing and industrial applications. However, the organisms used for dietary supplement enzymes are, in most cases, non-GMO,” Hanley told NutraIngredients-USA.
“Even so, it is currently very difficult to get enzymes positioned in certain third party certification standards. It can be challenging to determine the compliance status of the fermentation media. The fermentation media represents a very small percentage of the total product and the number of processing steps in the production chain would make detection of any potential GMO contamination virtually impossible,” she said.
The precise nature of the certification process will be a key factor in the GMO status of many enzymes, Hanley said. It’s not as straightforward as it is with ingredients that arise out of an agricultural process, in which case a decision tree might look like: Wildcrafted or cultivated? If cultivated, grown with non GMO seed? And so forth. Enzymes, on the other hand, feature a complicated manufacturing process with a lot of points of “GMO risk,” as advocated of labeling initiatives like to say.
NutraIngredients-USA is hosting an online forum titled Going Non GMO in Supplements to air this Thursday at 11 am Eastern. Speakers include Loren Israelson, president of the United Natural Products Alliance, Bethany Davis, director of regulatory affairs for FoodState, Inc.; Graham Rigby, senior vice president of science, innovation and R&D for New Chapter and Alan Lewis, director of special projects for Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. To register for the event, click here.
“Some third party certifiers will determine the compliance of products by the total percentage of an ingredient used during production, regardless of the percentage of that ingredient present in the final product. Complications can arise in the case of enzymes, because while the ingredients in the growth media are often disclosed, the exact proportions are considered trade secrets. Decades are often spent optimizing fermentation media to obtain maximum yield and potency. Without knowing the percentage of each ingredient used in the fermentation, it is difficult to determine if they are compliant to third party certification standards,” Hanley said.
One standard to meet
One of the points of risk for suppliers and manufacturers who might eventually have to try to comply with GMO labeling requirements is how that standards will be written. This is one reason for the push, such as it is, for a single national standard, to allow manufacturers with special challenges, such as enzyme suppliers, a clear picture of what’s required. Non GMO compliant ingredients are available today, but the industry will need time to adapt, Hanley said.
“Enzymes that are sourced from non-GMO organisms and are standardized on identity preserved carriers are readily available to our industry. However, when obtaining non-GMO certification is based on a “farm to fork” approach—one that demands proving GMOs are not utilized anywhere in the production process—the enzyme industry faces a significant challenge. As with other categories in the supplement industry, such as vitamins and probiotics, fermentation media plays a significant role. Deerland Enzymes considers this an important issue, and has taken a leadership role in the effort to provide transparency and education to the development of non GMO enzymes,” she said.