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Scientists protest as EC validates omega-3 labelling rule

By Shane Starling , 07-Oct-2009
Last updated on 16-Oct-2009 at 11:10 GMT

The group of international scientists that last week petitioned the European Commission to amend a mooted omega-3 labelling regulation they believe would confuse consumers, have vowed to continue their fight in the European Parliament, after the EC backed the regulation.

The group of 21 international leading omega-3 scientists said the rule, which does not discriminate between plant and marine-sourced omega-3 sources for product labelling, called the regulation an “insult”.

“This is an insult to consumers. It is a defeat for public health. It is also a denial of science,” said Professor Jack Winkler, one of the signatories to last week’s petition and director of the nutrition policy unit at London Metropolitan University.

“Despite a petition from 21 of the world’s leading nutrition scientists, we understand that the European Commission last Thursday voted for scientifically flawed regulations that would allow food and supplement manufacturers to put cheap plant oils in their products and imply that they have the same proven benefits for human health as fish oils,” he continued.

“We understand that there were 48 abstentions, including the UK representative, which gives us hope that common sense will prevail when we take our fight to the European Parliament. MEPs will now have the right to scrutinise the regulations, and we will be asking them not to approve this deception of EU residents.”

Non-discrimination

The scientists said the regulation would favour non-marine sourced omega-3 oils which could more cheaply be added to products but which did not deliver the same heart health benefits, thereby deceiving consumers as products would be marked “source of” or “high in” omega-3s depending on their levels.

“They cut costs and raise prices – great business, facilitated by the European Commission, at consumers’ expense,” Winkler said. “The winners from this episode are the big European food manufacturers. Was that an accident? Or is it an example of the Commission paying disproportionate attention to the interests of big companies at the expense of consumers?”

He added: “We will not give up our campaign to improve this Regulation. Having been approved by Brussels bureaucrats, it now goes to the European Parliament for a three-month scrutiny. We will now present good science and common sense to all MEPs, asking them to oppose the Regulation.”

The regulation permits products to claim omega-3 content if they have significant proportions of dietary reference values (DRV) of 250mg of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and/or DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and 2g of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).

The scientists are also critical of omega-6s such as LA (linoleic acid) being included at a level of 10mg per day, and polyunsaturated fats recommendations that are similarly non-discriminatory.

However despite these reservations, many marine-sourced omega-3 suppliers have welcomed the regulation as a step in the right direction even if plant-sourced competitors benefit.

The signees included Professor Michael Crawford, director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University; Peter Clough, technical director at Efamol Limited; Prof Claudio Galli, professor of pharmacology at the University of Milan; and Prof Andrew Sinclair, professor of human nutrition at Deakin University.

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