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Omega-3 sustainability drive steps up a gear

By Lynda Searby , 18-Mar-2014

Omega-3 sustainability drive steps up a gear

Functional food and supplement producer Bio-Life SPRL claims to have become the first company in Belgium and France to offer fish oil derived omega-3 supplements with sustainability certification, as the drive to have origins audited by Friend of the Sea gains pace. 

The firms omega-3 Magnum 1400 capsules contain fish oil obtained from small pelagics in the Southeast Pacific Ocean via methods that have enabled the product to obtain Friend of the Sea certification, said Bio-Life.

“Small pelagic fisheries for fish oil and fish meal are, for the large part, considered to be the best managed fisheries in the world. Small pelagic fish is caught in mono-species schools by means of the most selective fishing gear, with no harm to the seabed,” explained Paolo Bray, director of Friend of the Sea.

Whilst Bio-Life joined the certification programme out of a sense of environmental responsibility, the company’s export manager Damien Thysebaert admits sustainable sourcing is becoming a commercial advantage.

“Our customers never thought about asking for this kind of certification to promote omega-3 sustainability, but now, after four months on the market, this product is a real success,” he told NutraIngredients.

Overwhelming demand for origin audits

Indeed, according to Bray, Friend of the Sea - the accepted standard for omega-3 sustainability - is currently overwhelmed by omega-3 producers seeking certification. “The drive to have origins audited has increased, leading to a momentary lack of availability,” he said.

The shift towards sustainable fish oil has as much to do with securing a reliable supply as it does with environmental altruism, and the collapse of South American stocks 30 years ago due to over-exploitation and El Nino shocked the industry into improving its fishing management practices.

“The fish oil industry had to improve its fishing practices and make them sustainable in order maintain a constant level of production,” said Bray.

He added: “The krill fishery started more recently and has been well managed since the beginning as environmental awareness was already strong.

Bray estimates that 70% of total global omega-3 supply has the potential to be produced sustainably – at present he said approximately 40% had been audited and certified by Friend of the Sea.

Other origins?

This talk of sustainable fishing begs the question whether it might be more environmentally sound to look to sources of fish oil other than anchovies, mackerel, menhaden and krill, such as algae and seaweed.

Bray concedes that algae and seaweed production can have a low environmental impact and positive social impact, but reasons that while production of fishfeed and omega-3 has increased exponentially over the last 20 years, the level of catch of small pelagics for fish oil has remained constant, thanks to improvements in extraction practices and a decrease in the amount of fishmeal and fish oil in feeds.

 “It is of course important for the fish oil and omega-3 industry to further improve its efficiency and reduce its environmental impact, also via the introduction of new lower impact origins. One should, however, bear in mind that new origins are not always economically feasible or optimal in quality terms.”

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