Omega-3: Can you believe its not lard?

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fish oil, Fatty acid

Consumers concerned about the quality of fish oil in their omega-3
supplements should quiz the brand marketer over the source, says
chairman of GOED omega-3, a trade association that aims to maintain
standards of the ingredient.

GOED Omega-3 was formed last summer out of the Council For Responsible Nutrition's omega-3 working group this summer. The working group had been active since 2001, and drew up a voluntary monograph to set out standards, including oxidative parameters and a measurement of man-made pollutants (lead and mercury). Members of GOED Omega-3 – mostly fish oil suppliers – must sign an affidavit that their product adheres to the standards. According to GOED Omega-3 chairman Robert Orr, the association's membership makes up 90 per cent of the North American and European supply landscape. However UK supplement company First Vitality claims that some products present on the UK market are "full of toxins and saturated fat"​, as a result of manufacturers cutting costs by using inferior oils, in a bid to capitalise on the explosion of consumer interest in the healthy ingredient. David Ferguson of First Vitality told that fish oil is entering the marketplace from obscure places, with no quality control. "A lot of companies have climbed on the band-wagon and buy from the cheapest possible source,"​ he said. This, he said, results in finished products being sold for around £4 or £5 (€6 to €7.50) alongside others for £15 or £18 (€22 to €26). The consumer may not understand the difference and, if they plump for the cheaper version, realise no health benefits. First Vitality says consumers can find out whether their omega-3 supplements contain a high proportion of saturated fat by placing them in the freezer for 24 hours. It says that if the capsules turn cloudy then they could be "capsules of lard"​. But Robert Orr, chairman of GOED Omega-3, told "If you are getting it from a reputable supplier, this is nonsense."​ His advice to consumers anxious about the quality of the supplements they have purchased is to ask the brand manager where they source their omega-3 and access GOED Omega-3's website at, which lists all the suppliers that have signed the affidavit. "Any brand manufacturer, unless they are unscrupulous in and of themselves, can pick any one and know that the product is safe."​ Under the GOED Omega-3 monograph, the limits for lead, cadmium, mercury and inorganic arsenic are 0.1mg per kg each. As for saturated fats, Orr said that there are two grades of fish oil that are acceptable under the monograph, with different amounts of saturated fats removed by a chilling process called 'winterisation'. Standard fish oil contains 30 per cent DHA/EPA and has around 25 to 30 per cent saturated fat. "If put in the fridge it won't cloud, but it will in a freezer."​ High concentrate fish oil, by contrast, has 50 to 70 per cent DHA/EPA. More of the shorter chain fatty acids have been removed and saturated fat is 5 per cent or less. This will not cloud in a freezer. "High concentration fish oil does cost more, but you get more DHA/EPA. The lower concentration is in no way harmful, and it's certainly not lard,"​ said Orr. "Any brand marketer trying to save five or 10 cents or pennies and not use a recommended or validated organisation as a supplier is doing the consumer a disservice."​ At present GOED Omega-3's 21-strong membership is made up mostly of suppliers. But it aims to have 50 members by the end of the year, and expects many of newcomers to be manufacturers. This may lead to the development of a brand marketers' certification programme, which would make it still easier for consumers to check on oil origin. Ferguson said that he would like to see independent test data alongside all products, so that consumers can immediately tell what they are buying. "We want to see pharmaceutical grade fish oil separated from the cooking grade. The consumer is being misled."​ Orr said that fish oil prices did increase a little about a year ago, prices are presently stable and no dramatic rises are anticipated. Crude fish oil is a by-product of fish stock. In fact, the biggest user is not the human nutrition industry but aquaculture industry. Thus, prices are likely to increase only if aquaculture demand goes up dramatically. "We have some forecasting and we don't see any major increases that the consumer would have to bear,"​ said Orr. Current prices range from $4 to $40 per kilo (€3 to €30), depending on concentration.

Related topics: Suppliers, Omega-3s & Nutritional oils

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