Spirulina suppliers challenge US regulations

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Agriculture, Nitrogen

Two leading suppliers of Spirulina, a protein rich in vitamins and
used in a variety of natural-based personal care products, have
voiced their concerns over what they believe are over-zealous
regulations that forced them to cease production of the mirco-algae
back in October.

Hawaii-based Cyanotech and California-based Earthrise Nutritionals, the world's two leading suppliers of Spirulina, said they were forced to cease production due to regulatory changes in the allowable nitrogen sources for US organic standards.

According to the two companies, the National Organic Standards Board of the US Department of Agriculture (NOSB) disallowed the use of a mined, water-soluble form of natural nitrogen that was previously allowed in Organic Spirulina farming.

The companies say that this move came out about even though natural nitrogen use poses no potential problems for ground seepage or runoff as pond liners and closed loop systems are used as part of their microalgae farming methods.

Prior to October 2005, both companies claim they spent years analyzing the nitrogen sources allowed under the new standard and concluded that switching to the allowable sources would compromise the safety of their Spirulina.

"Teams of scientists from both companies concluded that the potential for very high bacterial levels and heavy metals is far too great under the new standard,"​ said Taro Ichimoto, COO of Earthrise Nutritionals.

"Although consumers like to see the word 'organic' on the label, we won't produce an Organic Spirulina if it compromises the safety of the product,"​ he added.

Spirulina contains a range of naturally occurring proteins and vitamins, including b-carotene and vitamin B12, which makes it ideal for a variety of cosmetic applications, including acne treatments, facial masks, hair oils, shampoo, mineral baths, skin cleansers and even toothpaste. It is also popular as a dietary supplement.

"Both of our companies thoroughly studied the situation and came to the conclusion that maintaining organic production under the new standard would lead to a lower quality product at a higher cost,"​ Dr. Gerald Cysewski, Cyanotech's Founder and CEO, said.

"Furthermore, with the use of the new nitrogen sources, Organic Spirulina produced under the new standard may not be considered vegetarian or vegan, a critical point of distinction to many Spirulina consumers,"​ Cysewski added.

The companies have also launched a joint advertising campaign to educate retailers and the industry about these changes which they believe could unfairly affect their business.

The companies had worked together back in 2003 when they filed a joint GRAS petition to the FDA for Spirulina produced at their respective farms in California and Hawaii.

Accordingly the GRAS petition was reviewed by the FDA with no objection. As a result the companies' Spirulina is recognized as safe by the FDA for use in all food, beverage and supplement applications.

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