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Calcium enrichment: Algal lime must not be added to soy drinks

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Soy beans and soy milk
Numerous manufacturers of plant drinks have been selling products enriched with algae calcium for years without complaint. © Pexels / Polina Tankilevitch

Plant-based drinks are often enriched with calcium so that they have similarly high levels of the mineral as cow's milk. Since organic foods are not allowed to have any specially produced minerals added to them, manufacturers have found another way. They extracted a powder consisting of calcium and magnesium carbonate from the calcium deposits of the marine algae Lithothamnium Calcareum and added this to their products. The algae count as a non-organic vegetable ingredient and may be added to organic foods in quantities of up to five per cent.

15 years through the instances

Numerous manufacturers have been selling such enriched products for years without complaint. However, the North Rhine-Westphalian food authority LANUV took a different view and imposed a fine on the manufacturer Natumi as early as 2005, whereupon Natumi sought legal clarification as to whether the algae additive was permitted. In the last instance, the German Federal Administrative Court finally referred the question to the European Court of Justice in 2019 as to whether the alga Lithothamnium Calcareum may be used as an ingredient in the processing of organic food.

No, answered the European Court of Justice (ECJ) lately. A non-organic agricultural ingredient may only be used under very specific conditions, such as when a food cannot be produced otherwise. These conditions were not met in the case of algae. Moreover, it was obvious to the judges that the addition of the calcium carbonate powder served the sole purpose of increasing the calcium content in the food and thus circumventing the ban on fortification of organic food. On this basis, the German Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG) must now make a final decision in Natumi v. LANUV.

No serious consequences for manufacturers

The ECJ ruling refers to the old EU organic regulation. "The new EU organic law of Regulation (EU) 2018/848 explicitly subjects the collection of algae and parts of algae to organic certification," writes lawyer Hans Peter Schmidt, who was not involved in the proceedings. In his view, the term "parts of algae" also refers to the calcareous skeleton of Lithothamnium Calcareum. The collection of Lithotamnium, for example on the north-west coast of Iceland, would therefore have to be certified organic from the end of 2021, just like the wild collection of herbs or berries. And as an organic ingredient, the algae powder could very well be used in oat or soy drinks. Accordingly, nothing would change for the suppliers of products with algae calcium until the final decision of the BVerwG and by then the new organic regulation would probably already be in force.

The opinion of the law firm Redeker Sellner Dahs, which represented the LANUV at the ECJ, reads differently. For them, the judgement basically clarified "that in cases of doubt, the intended use can ultimately be decisive for whether the addition of a certain substance in organic products is permissible". Accordingly, enrichment would also be prohibited by an organic ingredient. The ECJ may once again decide who is right.



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