The claim is allowed under the authoritative statement provisions of the Food and Drug Modernization Act, and applies to products containing at least 32mg of combined EPA and DHA per serving.
Manufacturers may declare on the packaging of a product that it is "An excellent source of omega-3 EPA and DHA", "High in omega-3 EPA and DHA", or "Rich in omega-3 EPA and DHA".
They must also state precisely how many milligrams of EPA and DHA per serving it contains, and what percentage this is of the recommended daily value - that is, 160mg per day.
Until now, manufacturers have been able to make the claim only for products that constitute an excellent source of DHA alone.
The new approval is fitting since in September 2004 the FDA approved a qualified health claim for foods and dietary supplements, linking DHA and EPA to a reduced risk of heart disease. This is believed to have contributed to the influx of omega-3 containing products on the market, but there has been some confusion amongst consumers as to what is a beneficial dose, as well as differentiation from less bioavailable sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Ian Lucas, executive vice president of global marketing at Ocean Nutrition, which makes the Meg-3 brand EPA/DHA ingredients, spelled out the benefits of this approval.
"Being able to differentiate food products with both EPA and DHA means that food companies can create a source of strategic competitive advantage because their products contain more value than just DHA alone."
Thousands of scientific papers have been published on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (of which fish oil is one of the best sources) especially for heart health and cognitive function.
Current thinking amongst many scientists is that it is best to consume both EPA and DHA rather than DHA alone, since both are found in fish oil at a ratio of around 1:5.