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IPA: 'We want to eliminate the confusion around the new categories of biotics'

Article-IPA: 'We want to eliminate the confusion around the new categories of biotics'

© AdobeStock/Viacheslav Yakobchuk IPA: “We want to eliminate the confusion around the new categories of biotics”
In mid-February, the International Probiotics Association (IPA) announced it was broadening its remit to include prebiotics, postbiotics, and synbiotics. Vitafoods Insights caught up with the association’s president, George Paraskevakos, to find out what this expansion means in practical terms.

According to Paraskevakos, the confusion that prevails in the biotics landscape was the motivation for the IPA’s decision to expand its scope beyond its historical focus on probiotics to cover all biotics.

“Two years ago, we formed a taskforce to work out our strategy for the future,” he said. “After many discussions and surveys with members and non-members, we ascertained that the market was confused about prebiotics, synbiotics, and postbiotics. The messaging was confusing for us, let alone for consumers. And if industry can’t agree on one definition, what basis is there for governments to make decisions?”

He said that this prompted the realisation that collectively, these new categories needed a “unified voice” to align messaging and make sure that they were properly represented.

“There is a lot of confusion currently, which we hope, in time, to eliminate, by replicating our achievements in probiotics,” said Paraskevakos.

He continued: “Prebiotics are getting attention but most people don’t have an idea of what prebiotic really means. It doesn’t help that the regulatory situation is still in flux  with some governments defining them as ‘fibre’ and others as much more.”

With regard to postbiotics, he said: “Postbiotics have had a lot of press and airtime at conferences in the last 18 months but it is all early onset science. Much of the confusion is around how they should be defined, because they are inanimate rather than live organisms.”

Replicating achievements in probiotics

Asked what achievements the IPA was hoping to replicate, Paraskevakos cited the introduction of a proposal to harmonise standards for the use of probiotics by creating Codex guidelines, and the development of manufacturing guidelines for probiotics.

“We advanced the category; we built a solid foundation. Probiotics have earned the support of consumers and governments because the industry has done the research and developed good manufacturing and labelling practices. Let’s emulate those practices for the other biotic categories so that consumers can be confident that they are safe and efficacious. In the long run, that is the only way to secure the growth of these newer categories,” he said.

He said the first steps towards replicating those practices would involve forming expert groups to develop a “roadmap” for building the required frameworks and organisational structures for the prebiotic, postbiotic, and synbiotic categories.

He likened the current landscape for these newer biotic categories to the probiotic market 15 years ago, when there were conflicting interpretations of the Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization’s (FAO/WHO) definition of probiotics by governments, and a “fear factor” among consumers about the concept of ingesting bacteria.

‘The science will not stop’: From fear to faith

By contrast, today, probiotic supplements are a $8.3 billion market, and while the Americas are still leading the supplements market, Asia Pacific is now the largest market for food and supplements combined – accounting for 55% of the global market – as well as being home to the industry’s top growth hot spots.

“The fastest-growing markets for probiotics reside in Asia Pacific,” said Paraskevakos, adding that China and Japan were the two main countries driving growth within the region.

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The probiotic market might be well established now, but Paraskevakos said that there were still many challenges for the industry. He insisted that IPA would continue to fight probiotics’ corner whilst ramping up its support of the newer biotics categories.

“We are absolutely not going to be abandoning probiotics,” he said. “We are at the table talking to many government agencies around the world about probiotics. Some of the regulations that legislators are trying to impose do not make sense for the category – they are teetering into pharmaceutical territory. I think the problem is that probiotics are live organisms that are not that well understood, which often results in them being over-regulated.”

He continued: “Our mandate for probiotics, going forwards, is to represent the category has we have done historically. The science will not stop, the category is still growing, and there are new strains being worked on at a bench level.”