The regulation establishes levels at which omega-3 forms EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) must be present in foods for them to bear ‘source of’ and ‘high in’ omega-3 claims.
Aside from assisting the swathes of consumers still learning about omega-3s, the regulation will provide a certainty previously lacking in a relatively nascent market, said Global Organization for EPA and DHA (GOED) executive director, Adam Ismail.
“Now that there are established health claims, nutrition claims, and soon an established intake recommendation, you will start to see a significant increase in the number of new products being launched in the EU,” Ismail told NutraIngredients.com.
“Nutrition claims are actually quite important because they help consumers understand how much EPA and DHA they should consume and whether or not a product can meaningfully contribute towards that amount. This should also clarify a lot of the uncertainty that the omega-3 food market has faced in the EU.”
He added: “This is a positive development for the market because there are hundreds of products in European countries already using omega-3 nutrition claims. Without the establishment of these EU-level claims, companies would have lost a valuable tool for educating consumers.”
Conditions of use
The controversial and long-awaited regulation has been welcomed by most in the omega-3 industry as an imperfect but necessary development, but it has drawn stern criticism from a prominent group of omega-3 scientists who believe it fails to adequately distinguish between EPA/DHA and ALA.
The head of that group, Jack Winkler, professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University, said the regulation encourages manufacturers to fill products with ALA, which is generally cheaper but does not confer the same heart and brain health benefits as EPA/DHA.
The regulation does mention ‘two types’ of omega-3 and that the type of omega-3 must be stipulated, but there is no requirement for this to be done front-of-pack, which Winkler’s group believes opens the door to consumer deception, and which will in fact serve to reduce the amount of EPA/DHA in the diet.
It states: “… the conditions of use should distinguish between the two types of omega-3 fatty acids, which have different physiological roles and for which different levels of consumption are recommended.”
But Winkler asserts that because the health benefits of ALA versus EPA/DHA are different, they should not be lumped together under the same claim-making rules, even if those rules specify demarcation in conditions of use disclaimers.
He said the regulation that is an annex to the 2006 nutrition and health claims regulation, was a European Commission rush-job based on the advice of overworked European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientists who were not omega-3 specialists.
“The problem is that the EFSA NDA committee does not include any specialists on omega-3 fatty acids,” he said. “And they did not consult widely outside, for example, not with any of the experts on our list of Signatories, which contains the leading international scientists in the field, nor with any of their many associates.”
“The lack of specialist expertise showed in their advice to the Commission and, even more so, in their draft dietary recommended value (DRV) report on lipids. The section on omega-3s is brief, superficial and incomplete. It is a poor job from what is supposed to be Europe's principal authority on nutrition. This regulation is a case study of what happens when Europe tries to do nutrition on the cheap.”
He said the group that contains more than 20 omega-3 scientists would continue to lobby for the rule to be modified.
Current EFSA draft DRV levels stand at 250mg per day, but the industry believes levels closer to 500mg better reflect the science in the area, and continue to lobby for upward revisions. It is not clear when DRVs will be finalized.
The regulation, which also spells out conditions of use for monosaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and unsaturated fat, states that products can bear ‘source of omega-3’ claims if they contain 300mg of ALA per 100g or kcal or 40mg of EPA/DHA. To make ‘high in omega-3’ claims products must contain twice those levels.