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Degradable gum base gains EFSA novel foods nod

By Jess Halliday , 12-Apr-2011

A new synthetic polymer for use as a chewing gum base has received a positive novel foods opinion from EFSA, bring the technology for less sticky gum that breaks down within months closer to the market.

While chewing gum is a perennially popular confectionery product, with global sales forecast to reach $20.7bn by 2015, it also presents a major headache for local authorities as discarded gum leaves stains on streets and can block public drains.

Called Rev-7, the new base is a synthetic polymer that looks to be a solution for manufacturers looking to cater to demand for chewing gum but without the associated environmental problems. It was developed at Bristol University in the UK by Professor Terence Cosgrove, who subsequently set up a company called Revolymer with chairman and CEO Roger Pettman and Lieven De Smedt to commercialise it.

The gum base consists of branched polymers of monomethoxypolythylene glycol (MPEG), grafted on to polyisoprene-graft-maleic anhydride (PIP-g-MA) and unreacted glycol.

Pettman told ConfectioneryNews.com last year that if gum made with Rev-7 goes down a drain it degrates within 2 to 3 months; on pavements it takes under two years. Over time the gum starts to crack, goes like a spider’s web and disintegrates into pieces, he said.

Although gum formulas would need to be tweaked, the polymer was a “drop in” in terms of manufacture and required no additional investment. The cost of production, Pettman said, works out to around eight to nine cents per pack of gum, compared to the six to nine cents required to make regular gum.

In an opinion published by EFSA yesterday, the panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) concluded that Rev-7 is safe at the proposed conditions of use and proposed intake levels = that is, a maximum of 8 per cent in formulations.

This opinion was based on assessment of a detailed specification including toxicologically-relevant compounds, the starting materials, and lab assessments of four production batches.

The ingredient is said to have virtually no nutritional value as chewing gum base is rarely swallowed, but studies and population-based intake estimates had to be carried out in case of migration of compounds from the polymer during chewing.

Member state objections

The cogs of the novel food process have turned slowly for Rev 7. Revolymer originally applied for novel foods approval through The Netherlands in October 2007. The Dutch authorities deemed Rev-7 to meet the criteria for acceptance as a novel food in 2009, but when the Commission forwarded the assessment report to other member states, several came back with comments or objections.

The Commission therefore forwarded the application, and the comments to EFSA for assessment by its panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA).

Revolymer launched Rev-7 in the United States last year after declaring self-affirmed GRAS (generally recognised as safe).