EFSA weighs up hoodia novel food application

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

New York-headquartered firm Desert Labs has filed an application for dried hoodia parviflora
New York-headquartered firm Desert Labs has filed an application for dried hoodia parviflora

Related tags Nutrition Snack

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is considering a novel food application for purported weight loss plant hoodia parviflora. 

According to the authority’s register of questions, the New York-headquartered firm Desert Labs filed the application for dried aerial parts of hoodia parviflora​, meaning parts of the plant that grow above the ground. 

Desert Labs launched ‘Snack Less’ gum in the US​ in 2012, with each piece containing 125 mg of the hoodia species parviflora. 

In 2008 food giant Unilever dented market confidence in the ingredient by ditching its €20m partnership with UK firm Phytopharm to develop products with hoodia species gordonii.​ 

Hoodia gordonii Unilever weight loss botanical iStock.com  Africanway
Hoodia gordonii, the hoodia species used by Unilever © iStock.com / Africanway

The decision followed the publication of a clinical trial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​, which doubted the safety and efficacy of the plant. 

Yet in 2011 the South African San Council (SASC) claimed this was based on inaccurate data about levels of the primary satiety-delivering glyceride of hoodia – P57. 

The cactus-like plant, native to Africa but sourced by Desert Labs from its parent company Kibbutz Yotvata in Israel, has been used for centuries by the San people to curb feelings of hunger. 

Hoodia after Unilever 

At the time of the US launch, Desert Labs told our sister site ConfectioneryNews the Unilever episode was an “obstacle”​ it had to overcome.

“I think the issue with Unilever was actually the supply chain… it’s the Wild West in terms of what you can get,” ​president Ari Benami said.

More damaging, he said, was the outrageous weight loss claims made by other online marketers.

In 2011 the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled charges​against firms Nutraceuticals International LLC and Stella Labs LLC for deceptive weight management claims about hoodia.

Instead Desert Labs makes the less ambitious claim to help consumers ‘chew cravings away’ and ‘snack less’.  

The company also makes hoodia herbal teas, bars and capsules.

In February last year a study from the company was published in the Journal of Medicinal Food​, which suggested 40 days of flavoured 3 g frozen Hoodia cubes leads to a “statistically significant decrease” ​in quantitative measures of hunger and food consumption.

No adverse events were reported. Desert Labs has self-affirmed Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) status in the US. 

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