Demand for non-GMO lecithin remains strong, supplies adequate

Lecithin suppliers report strong demand and adequate supply for non-GMO, identity preserved lecithin with raw material coming mainly from Brazil. The GMO issue continues to impact the supply of non-GMO lecithin. Some food manufacturers are using alternatives to lecithin due to GMO concerns and to avoid allergen labeling.

Demand for non-GMO lecithin is particularly strong in the European Union where food manufacturers want to avoid labeling their products as genetically modified. Products containing GM soy-derived lecithin would require such labeling.

“I don’t know of any food manufacturer who wants to label,” says Harro de Groot, managing director, IMCOPA Food Ingredients BV, a Brazil-based supplier of non-GMO lecithin.

Adequate supply
In general European lecithin suppliers say that supplies of identity preserved (IP), non-GMO lecithin are tight, but better than in 2005. “Last year, there was a lack of supply for non-GMO material, but this year lecithin production has improved in Brazil so that demand can be covered quite well,” says a spokeswoman with Germany-based Cargill Lecithin. Cargill is a leading supplier of lecithin and recently purchased Degussa Texturant Systems, another major supplier.

de Groot also says IMCOPA has enough supply to meet its customers’ needs, and that food manufacturers are more comfortable with the lecithin supply this year.

Gary Bartl, president, Austrade, a US-based ingredient supplier, is even more optimistic. “There is a pretty good supply of IP, non-GMO lecithin. I haven’t heard of anybody complaining about the supply.”

GMO concerns
Brazil is the main supplier of non-GMO lecithin, but de Groot says, “The amount of non-GMO lecithin from Brazil is reducing because of (GMO) contamination.”

Amy Nankivil, export manager, US-based Northland Seed and Grain Corporation, also sees GMO challenges. “Since Brazil has opened up to planting GM soy, identity preserved lecithin is harder and more expensive to source.”

Still, IMCOPA expects to produce sufficient supplies of non-GMO lecithin for the foreseeable future. “We expect to have a long-term relationship with farmers to maintain non-GMO supplies in the coming years,” says de Groot.

Other sources for non-GMO lecithin are becoming available, particularly from India, but de Groot says there are doubts about the quality of India’s lecithin.

In addition, de Groot says EU companies are becoming less strict about tolerances for GMO contamination. Below 0.1% has been the most common standard for non-GMO lecithin in the EU, but that is loosening. “Some companies accept higher levels up to 0.5% to 0.9% because those still meet EU regulations (for labeling which is 0.9%),” says de Groot.

The European market for Identify Preserved (IP) soybeans (both hard and soft) is estimated at about 40,000 to 60,000 tons for both food and feed.

Soy lecithin alternatives
Some suppliers say food manufacturers are looking at soy lecithin alternatives because of the higher price for IP, non-GMO lecithin and to avoid GMO issues.

US manufacturers are looking at alternatives to avoid new US Food and Drug Administration rules requiring that allergenic food sources, such as soybeans, be labeled on food products. “People are trying to formulate around soy, looking for alternatives,” says Bartl, whose company sells lecithin made from sunflowers and canola.

Matt Burridge, director of global brands, Ribus, Inc., also sees food manufacturers looking at soy lecithin alternatives. “They are seeing how things go with the FDA labeling law on food allergens,” he says.

Ribus sells Nu-Rice, which is non-GMO and has the funcitionality of lecithin, says Burridge. “We represent another choice that processors have,” he says.

In Europe, two firms, Palsgaard and Danisco, introduced citric acid ester soy lecithin alternatives in 2005 when supplies of soy lecithin were tight.

de Groot says companies looked at alternatives when the price for soy lecithin increased after the European Union’s GM food labeling regulations became law in 2004. Now, the price has stabilized, and he says, “We see less need for people to seek alternatives.”

For a complete list of suppliers of identity preserved, non-GMO lecithin, see The 2006 Non-GMO Sourcebook.

© Copyright 2006. The Organic & Non-GMO Report (September 2006).