The Pacific plant noni (Morinda citrifolia), whose fruit is used to make a drink popular in Hawaii, Tahati and other Pacific islands, has won European approval as a novel food.
The European Commission banned the product in 2001 for failing to provide a history of safe consumption, but reversed its decision after assessing new evidence submitted by a group of predominantly American importers.
"This is a step forward in showing European Union authorities that noni is harmless," said Scott Schuett, production manager for Pharm East Hawaii Inc, which markets a range of noni products. "The next step is to convince the committee that all pure noni products should be admissable into the European market as food and not admissable under the novel foods laws."
Germany-based noni marketer Pharmos is currently petitioning the European Commision to do just that. A decision could come as early as this summer.
Noni is said to have antioxidant and other benefits, and has been formulated into drinks, cosmeceuticals, pills, yoghurts green tea and chewing gum. Noni sales topped $600 million worldwide in 2002, with sales roughly split between the US and Asia, so the European market is ripe for growth.