The draft recommends levels of EPA, DHA and ALA products must contain if they are to carry either "Source of omega-3 fatty acids" and "High in omega-3 fatty acids" label claims.
Those levels are 300mg of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) per 100g [and per 100kcal], or 30mg of the sum of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) per 100g/100kcal for the ‘source of’ claim. For the ‘high in’ claim, the levels are double.
DHA and EPA are backed in many studies to boost brain and heart health, while ALA's benefits are more related to general health.
While many welcomed the amendment because it demarcates between ALA and DHA/EPA and formalises levels, others questioned the method used to determine those levels.
Adam Ismail, the executive director at the Global Organization for EPA and DHA (GOED), said establishing an EU-wide level was a step in the right direction, but stressed the wider need to establish a Recommended Daily Intake (RDI).
“The real controversy is whether or not 200mg is the right amount,” he said in reference to the recommended total daily consumption level used in the draft of 200mg per day of EPA/DHA. That's a level one observer described as, “at the very bottom end of the range of international recommendations”.
“The majority of scientists agree that you need a higher amount – between 250mg and 500mg. From industry's perspective, there is no economic incentive to add more omega-3 to a product if you can make a 'high in' claim at 60mg - because you wouldn't be able to make any better claim. So we're lobbying for the right level to be set as a recommended daily allowance so that you can deliver high enough levels with nutrient content claims.”
Jerry Luff, the business development and regional director in Europe at Australia-based DHA specialist, Nu-Mega Ingredients, was more welcoming of the general direction of the regulation.
“This is in keeping with the body of science and to be expected from the draft discussion papers,” he told NutraIngredients.com this morning. “We are comfortable with this draft.”
If and when the draft is written into the European Register, potentially before the end of the year, it will be the first time there has been an “enshrining regulation” in the omega-3 area.
As it stands, only Sweden and the UK have such regulations in place. “It’s a positive step forward for industry,” Luff said, but agreed with GOED in that the level could have been set higher.
Jack Winkler, director of the Nutrition Policy Unit at London Metropolitan University, said the regulation should cut ALA entirely because it was piggy-banking on the science that supported EPA/DHA, even if it recognised ALA needed to be present at 10 times the level present of EPA/DHA to make the nutrient claim.
“My concern is that food manufacturers will fill products with plant-based omega-3 sources, make the content claim, and imply they have the same benefits as EPA/DHA when they don’t,” he said.
“It seems to me the Commission standing committee on this matter couldn’t resolve how to separate ALA from EPA/DHA so they said, ‘let’s do both’. I understand the good intention behind this regulation, the need to get something on the books, but it’s a mish-mash.”
Professor Winkler said lobbying efforts continued for higher DHA/EPA levels and for removal of ALA from the claim.