Unilever has been boosted by a call from the UK's Food Standard's Agency (FSA) for views on the body's plan to approve the use of an ice structuring protein in the production of low-fat ice cream.

Unilever applied for permission to use an ice structuring protein last year. The method uses ice-structuring proteins derived from a fermented genetically modified baker's yeast.

In its draft opinion, the FSA said that the use of ice structuring proteins would be acceptable, subject to proposed parameters. However, the agency added that the use of the proteins should be flagged to consumers, even though the GM yeast cells are removed from the final product.

Ice structuring proteins are naturally occurring proteins and peptides that protect against tissue damage in very cold conditions. The proteins lower the temperature at which ice crystals grow and by changing the size and shape of the ice crystals. They are found in a variety of living organisms, including fish, plants and insects.

As it would be unsustainable to use proteins directly from these organisms, Unilever has developed a fermentation process using a GM yeast that carries synthetic gene encoding for the ISP.

Unilever hopes to gain permission to use the proteins in ice creams to influence the formation of ice structure. The method, the company believes, will be of particular use in regulating the texture of low-fat ice creams.

According to EU law, food ingredients produced by fermentation using GM micro-organisms not present in the final product do not fall under GM food legislation. As such, if the use of the ice structuring proteins is granted, the ice cream would not require labelling to stipulate that it contains GM micro-organisms.

However, the FSA recommended that consumers should be told that the ingredient is made using a GM yeast due to "the use of a synthetic gene sequence and the presence… of a significant proportion of cellular by-products from the fermentation process such as yeast proteins".