EFSA released today (October 20) a new scientific opinion on Eat Just’s request to market an alternative protein derived from mung beans as a novel food. The advisory found that the protein powder extracted from the seeds of the Vigna radiata – or mung bean – plant is “not nutritionally disadvantageous” and is safe under the conditions and levels of use proposed.
EFSA observed that mung beans are already widely consumed in Asia. In India, for example, mung beans are used in various applications in sweet and savory products such as snacks, while in other parts of Asia they are used in cakes, noodles and soups. The Panel on Nutrition, Novel Foods and Food Allergens (NDA) also noted that, to a lesser extent, mung beans are also eaten as fresh mung bean sprouts in Europe.
Mung bean protein is isolated from dried mung bean seeds in a sequence of processing steps that end with a drying process. The final ingredient is about 85% protein, 3-4% fat, and 3-5.5% moisture.
EFSA said mung bean protein is structurally related to the storage proteins in the seeds of other legumes, such as soybeans, lupines and peas. He noted that the mung bean protein isolate could therefore potentially trigger allergic reactions in people sensitive to soybeans, peanuts, lupine and birch pollen.
The conclusion of EFSA’s NDA Panel will serve as the basis for a final decision on the conditions of use and marketing, including labeling, to be taken by the European Commission and Member States.
A “growing number” of applications for new proteins
Eat Just’s mung bean protein is the first new legume protein to be considered safe under the EU’s novel foods diet.
EFSA said the approval is “one of the first” in a “growing number” of requests the food safety organization is receiving for sustainable protein alternatives.
Antonio FernÃ¡ndez, the scientific officer responsible for the opinion, explained that the regulator has found “stiff rice” in new food applications, including for new sources of vegetable protein.
At present, EFSA has 43 applications for novel foods undergoing adequacy checks, as part of the EC validation process, and 99 under risk assessment. Vegetable protein sources represent about 10% of new food applications. Other examples of applications received and under consideration include rapeseed protein, barley rice protein as well as algae and fungus varieties, the organization revealed.
âOur risk assessment of mung bean protein is an important and necessary step in the novel food assessment process. Through our risk assessments, we help EU policymakers to make science-based decisions and ensure consumer safety, while making an important contribution to innovation in this sector â,FernÃ¡ndez commented.
JUST Egg is expected to launch in mid-2022
In response to the news, US company Eat Just said the decision paves the way for a first launch of JUST Egg in mid-2022, once the Commission concludes its review.
“Bringing JUST Egg to Europe and to millions of consumers who choose a healthier and more sustainable approach to food will be one of the most important steps for our company”said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just.
The company added that it was also “actively engaged” with the UK Food Standards Agency on the path to regulatory approval. The FSA took on the role fulfilled by EFSA in the UK after the country left the European Union.
Eat Just highlighted the potential he sees in the European market for a plant-based egg substitute. Nielsen data shows that European retail sales of plant-based foods reached 3.6 billion euros in 2020, 28% more than in 2019 and 49% more than in 2018. A ProVeg International’s 2020 report stated that stand-alone egg alternatives like JUST Egg represent a âmajor market opportunityâ due to their versatility, breadth of functions and frequency of consumption.
The move was hailed by the Good Food Institute Europe, a non-profit group that works to support the transition to sustainable protein consumption.
Alice Ravenscroft, the NGO’s policy manager for food sustainability, said the EFSA approval shows consumers that Just’s new plant protein is safe and sustainable.
âThis decision is another big step forward for the future of plant-based meat, eggs and dairy products in Europe, and demonstrates that they meet the leading regulatory standards that consumers rightly expect. “,she commented. âWith growing demand, we look forward to seeing the JUST Egg join the ever-growing range of sustainable options available on supermarket shelves across the continent. “
Eat JUST has grown globally, with recent launches in South Africa and South Korea. The company’s international markets also include Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and China.