Omega-3 will flourish despite challenges, say analysts

By Alex McNally

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acid

A major challenge facing the lucrative omega-3 industry is the need
to differentiate between the various sources of the fatty acid,
analysts say.

Frost & Sullivan said that due to the scientific support for the fatty acid's role in heart health omega-3 is one of the hottest ingredients in the market. But the future of the market - estimated to be worth more than £130m - will be challenged by the need to start differentiating between the types of omega-3. Their warning supports previous calls to differentiate between the three main types of omega-3 - EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which are derived from marine sources such as oily fish, and ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), derived from plant sources such as flaxseed. A second challenge which needs to be overcome is the EU's hygiene rules. This legislation has in the past fuelled fears of market disruption. The analysts concluded that while there are hurdles, industry to date has been "efficient"​ in handling them and the market still presents "immense growth​" for manufactures. Frost & Sullivan predict that the use of the fatty acid in functional foods will increase, stating that: "With much more potential to be explored in the functional food sector, omega-3 fish oils are poised to demonstrate strong growth."Hygiene ​ The hygiene changes, under regulation (EC) 854/2004, aim to improve food safety throughout the supply chain and require all businesses processing fish oils, including omega-3, to be officially approved by the companies' local authority. But critics have spoken out against the hygiene rule's timescale, which gave a deadline of November last year for processing plants to become compliant with hygiene checks. Trade groups fear that as most of the fish oil is supplied by firms outside of the EU, there would not be the economic incentive to comply with the regulations. ​Frost & Sullivan said that while compliance with the legislation has been extended, the regulation will remain a challenge as oil manufactures are reluctant to make heavy investments to meet the requirements. Labels ​Finished products containing EPH, DHA or ALA can claim to be sources of "omega-3".​ The shorter long-chain omega-3 fatty acid ALA is a precursor to DHA, and has to be converted by the body before it can be used. While EPA and DHA are 20- and 22-chain chain carbons respectively, ALA is an 18-carbon.​Frost & Sullivan said it is "essential​" for consumers to know whether the product they are purchasing contains EPA, DHA or ALA. At the moment, foods containing any of these can claim to contain omega-3. Indeed, in November a survey of omega-3 labels on foods sold in major supermarkets found many were confusing to consumers, as food companies were failing to distinguish to shoppers the different types of omega-3s. The study was conducted by consumer group Which? In an effort to let consumers know not all omega-3s bring equal benefits, 12 ingredients makers - including Cargill, Ocean Nutrition Canada and Martek Biosciences - joined forces to create the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED).

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