The Czech Ministry of Agriculture, after several months of proceedings with all EU member states, has decided that additional selected species of the microalgae Chlorella can be consumed without lengthy registration. This decision is valid for the entire territory of the European Union. The Ministry based its decision on the results of many years of research done by the Institute of Microbiology of the Czech Academy of Sciences – Algatech Centre in Třeboň, Czech Republic.
All new foods and food raw materials are subject to relatively strict regulations in the European Union and have to go through a long approval procedure. This applies, for example, to insect proteins, plant extracts or microscopic algae that appear in food supplements or, for example, in the form of oils.
However, if it can be shown that the food was consumed in Europe before 1997, it is recognised without lengthy approval. This was also the case for chlorella, some of which was eaten in Czechoslovakia 40 years ago. With the Institute of Microbiology of the CAS dedicated to both the science and practical use of chlorella, it was now possible to determine which specific species of chlorella it was.
"The Institute of Microbiology has historically cultivated various species of chlorella that were not on the list of 'old' foods until now. But because it has all of these algae in its collection, it could prove that they were used and consumed before 1997. He therefore asked for these species to be recognised as 'old' food. This means that it can be consumed without going through the approval procedure and all kinds of tests," says Richard Lhotsky from the Algatech Centre.
The Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic, which is responsible for food safety, was thus able to decide, after a procedure with the Member States, to extend the approved chlorella species to include new species valid in the European Union.
"This recognition is particularly important for algae producers in EU countries who can now use more species without having to have them approved as a 'novel food' in a long and costly process," explains Richard Lhotský.
Tiny green ball
"I will now describe the algae in such a way that everyone will be able to recognise it," wrote Dutch botanist and microbiologist Martinus Beijerinck in 1890 when he identified the microscopic alga Chlorella. Since then, this alga has been a model organism for photosynthesis research and, since the 1950s, it has been cultivated for use in the food industry.
Czechoslovakia became the fifth country (after the USA, Israel, Germany and Japan) where Chlorella was cultivated and used for consumption. The algae meatballs at a hotel in town of Tábor were famous. At that time, the Institute of Microbiology of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in Třeboň was also involved in the development of medicinal preparations and Třeboň´s Chlorella flew into space with czechoslovak astronaut Vladimír Remek in 1978.
More than a hundred species
Most people know chlorella from dietary supplements, tablets or capsules. Although people usually have no idea what specific species of microalgae is behind the green powder, it is very important for producers. The chlorella family includes about 100 species and is constantly being renamed, making it difficult for chlorella companies to know which species are allowed and which are not. There are still a few technologically important species that had the misfortune of not having their name among those consumed before 1997.
Most chlorella is now grown in Asia in open cultivation systems, while in Europe, due to climatic conditions, cultivation in closed fermenters is becoming more widespread, where new non-green strains of chlorella may also be able to establish themselves, for example for gluten-free products as a source of protein or antioxidants.
Approval of 'new' and 'old' foods in the EU
All novel foods, or foods that were not consumed in the EU before 1997, are considered to be 'novel foods' or 'Novel Foods'. There is an official catalogue of these foods (Union List of Novel Foods). Therefore, if someone wants to introduce a novel food (e.g. new algae tablets or dried crickets) to the European market, they must apply to the relevant national authority and provide the necessary documents.
If the food was consumed on EU territory before 1997, it is necessary to prove this and ask the EU to decide that the food is not a Novel Food. Again, the application is made to the national authority. The authority will initiate the procedure and consultation with the EC and all national food safety authorities; it also has its own expert team to evaluate the applicant's arguments. It then notifies the Member States and the EC that it intends to issue a decision, and all have 10 days to comment. The decision of the National authority is then valid in all EU countries.