Under EU novel food law, food or food ingredients without a significant history of consumption in the EU before 15 May 1997 must seek approval.
However when a novel food is ‘substantially equivalent’ to a food already on the market a company can apply to a member state using a simplified approval procedure, which was the case here.
In its draft opinion, the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) concluded that the DHA-rich oil sourced from the microalgae Schizochytrium sp. found in coastal marine areas was sufficiently similar to an oil produced by Martek Biosciences from the same species.
Daesang Corp said the microalgae presented a sustainable alternative to fish-derived omega-3 oil, which is currently the major global source of DHA.
It also noted the challenge of photoautotrophic microalgae sources, which unlike heterotrophic microalgae such as Schizochytrium sp. need light as an energy source and are therefore often dependent on weather conditions.
Heterotrophic microalgae are able to take energy from simple organic substances without requiring light.
The company says Schizochytrium sp. has a DHA content of almost 49% of its total fat content.
Today (18 May) is the last day for stakeholders to submit comments on the draft opinion to the FSA’s Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP).
Approval would okay the oil's use in applications including food supplements, dairy products, cereals and cooking fats.
Big interest in microalgae
US-headquartered Martek Biosciences, formerly OmegaTech, applied for the initial approval back in 2001 and was eventually authorised in 2003. Since then, Schizochytrium sp. DHA oil has been the subject of several simplified applications.
In 2011 Ocean Nutrition Canada requested a substantial equivalence assessment of its oil, which was approved by the UK’s FSA in 2012.
Martek Biosciences was acquired by Dutch nutrition giant DSM in 2011 for around €790 million, with its standing in the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) market cited as a key motivation.