The European Commission is today due to finalize a proposal that would determine the form and levels of omega-3 needed for food and beverage products to make ‘high in’ or ‘source of’ claims.
The proposal has generated heated opposition, most notably from some of the world’s leading omega-3 scientists who believe the regulation would mislead consumers as it does not distinguish between marine-sourced EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and plant-based ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
This would be misleading, they say, as only the fish-derived omega-3s have the scientific backing for their health benefits.
Oily fish is only source
The UK’s Food Standard’s Agency (FSA) has stressed that that only the consumption of oily fish can deliver recommended levels of EPA/DHA.
“We want any claims agreed at EU level to be supportive of Government dietary advice, and not mislead consumers into believing they can achieve their recommended dietary intakes of DPA/EHA from foods other than oily fish,” it said.
The UK government’s advice to consumers is that the heart health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids relate to consumption of 450mg/day of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DPA/EHA).
“Oily fish is the only significant dietary source of long chain omega-3 fatty acids and consumers are recommended to eat two portions of fish per week of which one should be oily. Plant derived short chain fatty acids (ALA) offer no significant cardiovascular benefit to consumers.”
The proposal that member states will vote on today would allow food and beverage 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 and/or DHA and 2g of ALA.
Scientists speak out
A group of 20 omega-3 scientists on Tuesday sent an “urgent petition” to the EC and to several national representatives attending today’s meeting.
The petition stated: “The regulation would (…) 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 regulation would legalise the deception of consumers.”
Even if the proposal is passed in its current form, it will then be passed to the European Parliament, which will have three months to consider it. The scientists have said they will continue to lobby against the regulation regardless of today’s decision.
The meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH) is expected to run until the close of business today.