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Perna canaliculus has been commercially available as a food supplement in the United States since 1975. Perna mussel, was for centuries, a major part of the diet in local populations of New Zealand. The reported incidence of arthritic and rheumatic disorders was extremely low among coastal New Zealanders compared to those living inland.
The Green-Lipped Mussel Story
The reason people first marketed perna canaliculus stems from the observation that native New Zealanders (Maoris) who lived near the sea had a much lower incidence of arthritis than their relatives who lived inland.5 Their diets were similar with the exception that the Maoris on the coast consumed large amounts of green-lipped mussel.
A few scientists in Australia continued to experiment with perna canaliculus extract in the 1980s and identified some anti-inflammatory compounds. In the early 1990s, a lipid fraction of perna canaliculus was isolated and found to have a very powerful anti-inflammatory properties. This lipid extract, with a trademark name of Lyprinol, contains a variety of fatty acids, including eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA), which is an omega-3 fatty acid. The well-known omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA). A patented manufacturing process (super-critical fluid extraction of stabilized perna canaliculus extract) may have solved the problem of previous reported inconsistencies using perna canaliculus extract. It appears the active compound in perna canaliculus is ETA and not its mucopolysaccharide content. (This is an example that quality control in supplement manufacturing is very important. More often than not, in this unregulated industry, you do get what you pay for.)
In a 1998, double-blind study of 60 patients with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis conducted over a three-month period, those who used 210 mg of the stabilized lipid extract of perna canaliculus showed a 70-percent improvement in their symptom complex in both groups. There was reduced pain and stiffness, along with an improvement in functional indices.4,6 Another recent study of this novel compound showed that the stabilized lipid fraction of perna canaliculus may be a stronger antiinflammatory than flax oil, oil of evening primrose and fish oil.5,7
Only one company (Tyler) has the rights to the patented technology to stabilize the lipid extract from perna canaliculus. It is this author's opinion that the active compound in both fresh green-lipped mussel and the stabilized lipid extract is ETA, not the other fatty acids that are present. I am anticipating that other companies will figure out how to isolate ETA without interfering with the patented progress. It is good to see that practitioners of nutritional medicine may have another powerful weapon to naturally treat patients with both osteo-and rheumatoid arthritis.
Market and trade
The domestic market takes a small portion of the product. New Zealand mussels are currently exported to about 60 countries, the major importers being Japan, Australia, USA, and Europe. In 1988 exports totalled NZ$ 24 million (FOB). By 2000 that figure had risen to NZ$ 170 million (FOB). This represents a growth of over 708% for the 12 year period. The weight of processed exports in the year 2000 amounted to 28 068 994 kg, representing an export return of NZ$ 59 649 for each hectare used for mussel production. In 2002, export earnings totalled US$ 123.5 million.
Depending on the specific market destination, New Zealand mussels are sold on the half shell, whole out of shell, live in shell, frozen in shell, or individually quick frozen (IQF). Those frozen in the half shell make up over 70% of total export sales, making New Zealand the world's leading exporter of half-shell mussels. A number of factories also specialise in a variety of other lines, such as smoked mussel meat, mussel chowder, crumbed, coated and stuffed mussels, marinated, powder, and vacuum packed. Whole live mussels are popular with chefs and domestic users alike, as they can prepare them to suit their own recipes and serving preferences.
New Zealand mussels are truly versatile, and there is a product form to suit almost every taste or serving style. Processed mussels have a longer shelf life than many seafood products and, provided the packer's recommendations are adhered to, they can be enjoyed as a year-round delicacy.
Status and trends
A considerable amount of research has taken place in the mussel industry and continues unabated as growers and processors strive to enhance every aspect of production and environmental management. Initial research was directed at developing systems that best suit New Zealand conditions. After the establishment of the longline system, research took on more complex and specific targets involving both laboratory work and field trials. A selective breeding programme is underway, and the technology for small scale hatchery seed production has been established. Commercial-scale hatchery seed production and off-shore farming are expected within five years.
Research is carried out by a number of government agencies, universities and private research organisations. This work is regarded as being amongst the most progressive and advanced of its kind in the world and is held in high regard globally. As an example, the New Zealand bio-toxin monitoring program is considered to be the most advanced of its type in the world.
Industry development prospective
The increase in production has slowed down due to a moratorium on the granting of new resource consents while the regulatory framework for aquaculture is being revised. However, the industry is expected to treble its earnings by 2020. This growth will come from increased farming area, increased production rates, increased efficiencies, and higher-value products.
The industry is developing new products that will distinguish Perna canaliculus from other mussel species in the international market. Selective breeding will be a major vehicle for achieving and maintaining uniqueness and entering new markets. The largest processor and marketer has obtained organic certification for its product, and other companies are likely to follow this move.