The eel-like fish can survive low temperatures because of a naturally occurring ice-structuring protein. The protein from the blood of the fish can lower the temperature at which ice-crystals form, meaning that when used in ice cream, less cream or fat is needed, according to a BBC news release.
Unilever UK, an ice cream maker, says the artificial equivalent allows it “to produce products with more intense flavor delivery, a wider range of novel textures and more intricate shapes. The company also says it can improve the “healthiness” of ice cream by cutting its fat and sugar content. But the process also carries additional health risks due to the uncertainties associated with gene insertion.
“We want to be clear, despite the headlines, we do not consider the ice cream to be genetically modified,” states Trevor Gorin, media contact for Unilever UK. “There is no GM material in the finished product. To manufacture it, we use a process – quite common in the food and other industries – that uses modified yeast, but that’s all. Again, despite common misconception in the media, it has nothing to do with fish – and therefore doesn’t taste ‘fishy’!”
Unilever published extensive data with experts in the field of food safety and allergenicity, according to Sharyn Kolstad, media contact for Unilever U.S. The work covers all aspects of establishing the safety of proteins in the food supply and the information was provided to outside experts and regulatory agencies around the world.
“Upon successful completion of an extensive internal safety and allergenicity evaluation and thorough FDA review process, Unilever Ice Cream U.S. began using ice structuring protein in products in 2003 and continues to use the ingredient,” Kolstad says. “ISP is made by a common fermentation process. ISP is not genetically modified, and is nature identical.”
The protein, she explains, is removed from the yeast at the end of fermentation, adding that in years of production both here and abroad has shown that ice structuring protein is safe for use in frozen dessert products.
“The use of ISP has opened up new opportunities for innovation in a variety of ice cream and ice-based novelty products,’ Kolstad adds. “We have had products containing ice structuring protein in the U.S. market for three years without a single consumer issue arising.”
Unilever stresses that no genetically modified material is present in the final product, and the level of the ISP in the ice cream does not account for more than 0.01 percent of the weight.
“This is an exciting new technology that has potential benefits for ice cream, including the possibility of increased fruit content and lower fat content. The process itself is widely used within the food industry,” according to Unilever.
The British and Canadian scientists – Malcolm Hooper, emeritus professor of medical chemistry at Sunderland University, Joe Cummins, emeritus professor of genetics at the University of Western Ontario and geneticist Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, director of the Institute of Science in Society all say this risks “letting off an immunological time bomb.”
They submitted their findings to the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently on behalf of the Independent Science Panel, insisting that the protein is changed in the processing and could pose a danger. Unilever has applied to the FSA to be able to use the GM protein in edible ices sold in Britain including sorbets, water ice, fruit ice, frozen desserts, iced smoothes and ice cream.
“The transgenic protein appears to have the glycosylation pattern of yeast, making that protein a unique antigen,” Cummins, Ho and Hooper state in a press release. “Even though allergenicity was studied in a cursory way, there is a clear precedent for studying inflammation comprehensively in the long term in both young and older animals before exposing the European public to the transgenic ice cream.”