Deadline fails

By Ragini Letitia Singh
Published: Wednesday 15 April 2009

-- Committee yet to issue guidelines for monitoring probiotics

PEOPLE who buy probiotic drinks, ice creams and curds in India cannot really be certain of their health benefits. There is no monitoring mechanism for checking the genuineness of these products or verifying the claims on their labels.

A committee set up under the Indian Council of Medical Research (icmr) to resolve this problem is yet to come out with its guidelines for probiotic food that are dietary supplements with strains of bacteria or yeast that claim to be beneficial for the digestive system and overall immunity.

The meeting of the Committee for Guidelines on Probiotics, that was scheduled in March 2009 to approve the draft guidelines, has been postponed yet again. The meeting was originally scheduled for February, then moved to March and now to April. icmr officials could give no clear reasons for the delay.

The committee headed by retired director general of icmr, N K Ganguly, was set up in July 2008. It was to submit the guidelines in three to four months to the Union ministry of health and family welfare for final approval.

The first draft of the guidelines is ready, said Ganguly, but the date of the meeting is uncertain. He said guidelines for probiotic food in India are "necessary for standardizing food quality and norms".

Down to Earth Amul, Nestle, Mother Dairy and Yakult Danone, a subsidiary of a Japanese company, are currently marketing probiotic food products in India. Yakult follows Japanese guidelines called Foods for Specific Health Use or foshu. But there are no guidelines for other such products that are crowding the supermarket shelves in increasing numbers (see 'Tall claims?' Down To Earth, February 15, 2008).

Nesvita was the first probiotic yoghurt in India and was launched 18 months ago. It is marketed by Nestle and claims to have more than 100 crore bacteria per 100 grams. "It contains active cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria that can survive the body's gastric juices better than the bacteria in ordinary yoghurt and prevent harmful bacteria from sticking to the intestinal walls," said Himanshu Manglik, senior manager with Nestle. The curd is also fat free, he said. Guidelines, he said, would help increase consumer understanding of the benefits of probiotics.

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