By Lieve Laurens
The second annual Technical Standards Focus Group convened in early June 2021 to revisit some of the technical considerations and priorities for guidance development that were highlighted after the inaugural working group meeting in March 2020; nutritional information and biomass composition; identification methodology and genetic analyses; safety and presence of toxins and toxic metals; and finally, labeling and reporting requirements.1
The meetings were attended by about 30 participants, including representatives from the National institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AFFCO), The Department of Energy ARPA-e office, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), algae producers and consumers, and a number of commercial analytical laboratories, including Eurofins, Celignis, Exact Scientific.
The major topics covered represented identified priorities from several surveys and in-person interactions. There is consensus that most regulating standards that currently exist are not specific to algae, though still often used for algae applications, characterization and reporting. This lack of specificity has led to confusion around best practices. Guidance around testing methods and prioritization of analyses is often not available in existing regulations. The goal of the 2021 working group discussion was focused on an actionable strategy that would address some of the primary issues identified in 2020, as well as expand the group and the discussion to be inclusive of macroalgae, presenting related but unique challenges in terms of characterization strategies.
Perhaps the biggest identified priority from the working group meeting is the need for establishment of definitions for each of the constituents, which would lead to at least a basis of a common language establishment that can then be followed with matching of existing standard methods. Furthermore, setting targets around the identification of toxins for specific biomass sources and matrices was listed as another of the major priority gaps.
A second recurring theme in the discussion forum was the urgent need for a standard reference material (SRM), representative of multiple different biomass and material matrices currently or imminently commercialized. The group recognized that several SRMs are already available through central distribution mechanisms or partners (e.g. NIST) but not necessarily tailored to represent specific constituents or the commercialization sector, or characterized across a nationwide network through the utilization of a ring test for specific applications.
The main challenge identified is now associated with building reporting consensus standards that are representative of the widely different sectors and applications pursued by the emerging and established commercial algae producers and consumers. An example of an industry sector that is ready to welcome algae, is the feed ingredients producers and formulators. Representation from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) was well-received at the meeting, bringing background and experience on a proficiency testing program that can be expanded and ultimately support both the familiarization of feed laboratories and formulators with algal biomass, but also support the developing of a testing method alignment strategy and collaboration among a large number of testing laboratories. This is the kind of approach that is necessary to help drive the adoption and growth of an algae-based ingredients industry and the group is looking forward to collecting and disseminating input from all corners of this emerging field.
For further information and to participate in the future direction of the Technical Standards Working Group, please reach out to: TechStandards@algaebiomass.org.