The exceptional Ad Hoc Working Group meeting was attended by EFSA scientists, industry stakeholders and EC representatives including Basil Mathioudakis, the EC’s head of Food Law, Nutrition and Labelling.
Mathioudakis backed the idea that ALA brain development claims could be extended to DHA, based on the assumption that ALA’s brain benefits are a result of the fatty acid breaking down to DHA in the body. Therefore direct consumption of DHA should be able to bear the same claim.
EFSA approved an article 14 children’s health claim linking ALA consumption and brain development submitted by French-based Kraft Biscuits Europe in March 2009.
Harry B Rice, PhD, the director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) was at the meeting and said his group gave full support to the proposal.
“There was much discussion about being able to generalize the claim to DHA,” he told NutraIngredients in an email, noting the ALA (alpha-linolenic) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) conversion principle.
“It stands to reason that direct ingestion of DHA would provide the same benefit. This is particularly true since the conversion of ALA to DHA in humans is very poor. Mathioudakis was the one pushing this issue. He seemed very driven to establish a pragmatic and consistent approach to the evaluations and subsequent establishment of conditions of use. GOED vocally supported the extension of any ALA claim to a DHA claim.”
DRVs and health claims
Interaction between recent EFSA-recommended Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) for ALA and DHA of 250mg per day and EFSA approved health claims such as that for Kraft were also discussed.
But Rice said GOED was surprised to find this discussion did not extend claims associated with maintenance of blood pressure and triglycerides, instead focusing on the brain and eyes.
An EC spokesperson said the meeting aimed to, “exchange views and positions with stakeholders and scientists before taking further steps as risk managers.”
“The Commission found the discussion fruitful and will consider all the positions expressed by the stakeholders in the process of authorisation of those omega-3 related claims."
She was not able to clarify when next the topic would be discussed at EC level.
EFSA on ALA and the brain
EFSA’s health claims panel stated in its opinion on the Kraft dossier:
“The Panel considers that these data are sufficient to establish that ALA is a precursor of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the major fatty acid in mammalian brain. The Panel notes that no data are provided on the efficacy of conversion of dietary ALA to DHA and on the relative importance of dietary ALA (compared with other n-3 fatty acid sources) as a precursor of DHA in the target population [3-6 year-olds].”
That opinion can be found here.