‘Better no regulation than a bad regulation’ say EU omega-3 scientists

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acid, Nutrition, Eicosapentaenoic acid

A group of prominent lipid scientists has petitioned the EU calling for a rethink of draft daily reference intake levels for omega-3s they fear will only confuse consumers and disadvantage marine-sourced omega-3 suppliers.

Draft reference intakes for long and short chain omega-3s, as well as omega-6s, have been proposed by an EC working group for a series of nutrition content claims.

The daily recommended intake being proposed by the Commission for products to be able to bare ‘contains’ or ‘high in’ omega-3 for EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is 200mg and 2g for plant-sourced ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) last week proposed reference standards for use with cardiovascular and other health claims of 250mg for long-chain fatty acids.

Suspend talks

The scientists said work on the reference intake levels should be suspended until issues such as the demarcation between various omega-3 sources can be clarified.

“We greatly value the priority and urgency the Commission has given to developing a Regulation on five claims for omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and unsaturated fat,”​ the scientists wrote, but added:

“We urge the Commission to suspend discussion of the proposed claims temporarily, then to reconvene a proper scientific discussion of the issues, without an artificial deadline. In making this petition, we are fully aware of the implications. It will mean there are no approved nutrition claims for these substances in the Annex by the deadline of early 2010.”

They said the draft, as it stands, would incentivise companies to fortify products with “cheap vegetable oils but present them to the public as delivering the same proven health benefits as EPA/DHA”.

It is, “Better no regulation than a bad regulation”​, they said.

“The process we propose will take time, but it will provide a coherent scientific foundation for claims and for educating both the general public and food producers. Taking care with the underlying science now will lead to better, and more enduring, claims in the end.”

The signees included Professor Michael Crawford, director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University; Peter Clough, technical director at Efamol Limited; Dr Alexandra Richardson, ​senior research fellow at Oxford University; Prof Claudio Galli, professor of pharmacology at the University of Milan; Prof Jack Winkler,​director of the nutrition policy unit​at London Metropolitan University and Prof Andrew Sinclair, ​professor of human nutrition​at Deakin University.

The petition can be found here​.

A spokesperson for the European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM) welcomed the EFSA-recommended level of 250mg EPA and DHA per day.

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