Up-and-coming Himalayan superfruit the goji berry (Lycium barbarum) — also known as Chinese wolfberries — may continue to be sold in the UK after the UK Food Standards Agency declared the superfruit did not require Novel Foods authorisation.
Responding to a dossier submitted by the UK Health Food Manufacturers' Association, the FSA said there was sufficient evidence indicating history of safe use and therefore it could remain on sale.
Historically, goji berries have been sold through Chinese herbal and food stores, but their rise as a superfruit has seen many new product launches in the past two years, which prompted scrutiny of its status and safety. The FSA stated there were no safety concerns with the berry that has become very popular in trail mixes, smoothies and juice blends.
Other evidence in the HFMA submission included use of the berries in soft and alcoholic drinks, published recipes incorporating goji berries, and both a Belgian decree and a German Court decision classifying the antioxidant and vitamin-rich berries as a food.
In the European Union, a food is judged to be novel if it was not eaten in a significant quantity in Europe before May 1997. New foods must be shown to meet three criteria before they can be authorised for sale: they must not be unsafe, their labelling must not be misleading and their nutritional quality must not be inferior to other similar foods that they could replace.
The notoriously long-winded Novel Foods process is highly unpopular and seen by some as a barrier to innovation. Many trade groups have called for a more streamlined process or its outright abolishment.
The FSA recently delivered another positive preliminary verdict on a submission for fruit from the African baobab tree. Although there was no evidence that the fruit had been safely consumed in the EU before 1997, the FSA noted decades or centuries of safe use in Africa.
The FSA queried mould contamination levels common with baobab fruit but Phytotrade Africa — the southern African trade group that submitted the application — testified they were within EU limits.