Scientists unite to stop omega-3 ‘Euro-mad rush’

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Eicosapentaenoic acid Omega-3 fatty acid Fatty acid

Twenty one of the world’s leading omega-3 scientists have petitioned the European Commission in a last-ditch effort to convince EU rule makers its omega-3 nutrition labelling plans are flawed and should be significantly revised.

A European Commission meeting tomorrow is due to finalise the proposal that will allow products to bear the claim “high”​ in or a “source of” ​omega-3s if they contain significant proportions of dietary reference values (DRV) of 250mg of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and/or DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and 2g of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).

The scientists believe a regulation that does not discriminate between marine-sourced EPA/DHA and plant-sourced ALA will mislead consumers.

The petition is also critical of omega-6s such as LA (linoleic acid) being included at a level of 10mg per day, and polyunsaturated fats recommendations that are similarly non-discriminatory.

“This would allow companies to fill products with cheap vegetable oils (sunflower, corn, safflower), that are high in omega-6s,”​ said Dr Alex Richardson, of Oxford University and Director of Food and Behaviour Research. “Omega-6s physiologically compete with and overwhelm omega-3s”

However despite these reservations, many marine-sourced omega-3 suppliers have welcomed the regulation as a step in the right direction.

Consumer deception?

“The regulation would thus allow manufacturers to fill their products with cheap plant oils, yet claim they are high in omega-3s, thus implying the health benefits of fish oils, without delivering them,”​ the scientists write in the petition. “The regulation would legalise the deception of consumers.”

The petition went on to state: “We urge the Commission to immediately suspend all work on the present draft regulation. Then, it should summon an expert meeting of scientists who specialise in fatty acids. This meeting should produce a consensus statement on the relevant science.”

Professor Jack Winkler,​one of the signatories and​director of the nutrition policy unit​at London Metropolitan University, told this morning it was not too late to rethink the regulation.

“Several member states have expressed doubt about the science upon which this proposal is based and we have reiterated this in this petition,” ​Professor Winkler​said.

Even if the regulation was passed in its current form, it would then be passed to the European Parliament which has three months to consider it.

“Lobbying will continue there regardless of what happens tomorrow,” ​Winkler said.

Flawed science

The scientists published an accompanying document highlighting what they see as the scientific flaws underpinning the proposal.

They state the DRVs are too low and should be doubled or more. Low DRVs mean products can claim to be sources of omega-3 when their contribution to the diet is negligible.

In the UK today the petition made the front page of The Daily Telegraph​ and the The Times​ published a letter to the editor highlighting the scientists’ concerns about the regulation.

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; Prof Claudio Galli, professor of pharmacology at the University of Milan; and Prof Andrew Sinclair, ​professor of human nutrition​at Deakin University.

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