Is Asia the future for phytochemical research?

By Alex McNally

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European food safety European union Nutrition Food Uk

The future of research into the ability of phytochemicals to treat
modern disease lies in Asia because of restrictive laws and
"cynicism", a UK based research company has said.

Nature's Defence has said that laws on making claims about the disease benefits of functional food's are causing hurdles for companies investigating their potential. The firm's fears could place even more importance on getting the forthcoming EU's proposals for health claims right to the benefit of both researchers and consumers. Extra responsibly would also fall on the shoulders of the European Food Safety Authority, which will be in charge of assessing claims and the merit of the scientific backing to support them. If the company's fears are felt further across the R&D industry, it could prompt more companies to look at Asia when it comes to research and even marketing. This is not the first time legislation has been held up as presenting a barrier to food innovation. This week economist Graham Brooks said that EU novel foods regulations threatened industry competitiveness. The Leicester-based firm, which has been in operation for three years, has recently been behind research into the ability of salvesterol, found in tangerine peel, to prevent cancer. Research announced this month at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Manchester, UK, from Dr Hoon Tan showed a potential for salvesterol to destroy cancer cells. Dr Tan's work showed that human cancer cells, which contain an enzyme called P450 CYP1B1, were destroyed by this compound. Nature's Defence will be in charge of promoting and protecting Dr Tan's work, but a company spokesperson said this was not made easy by current legislation and views in Europe. For example, the firm said that to make a product from a herb it needs to be classed as a medicine requiring a licence. He said: "Nature's Defence has been around … in a low key way, and will continue to be so. Make a claim and you get closed down, so we say nothing at all, we let the customers do that for us.  "The future lies overseas. Whilst European medicine refuses to acknowledge that food can be functional, the Asian world sees things differently. We are collaborating with an Asian government who have agreed to fund clinical studies.  "Such is the cynicism here, that even if there are hundreds of 'cures' over there, they will be not recognised here.  "It is really sad that the pharmaceutical lobby is so strong and has such influence." ​ The UK's 1939 Cancer Act provides a good example of the restrictive nature of some laws, the company says. This law lays down strict criteria for anything which advertises a treatment or remedy for cancer - and carries a prison sentence. Under regulation (EC) No 1924/2006, which came into force in the UK from 1 July 2007, any food product claiming to have a health, nutritional or disease related benefit, must meet a list of European Commission approved wording. *What do you think? Contact at nyrk.zpanyyl@qrpvfvbaarjf.pbz

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