Omega-3 industry ‘baffled’ by EC call to review European safety levels

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

The omega-3 industry is baffled at the prospect of being put on the EU safety hook
The omega-3 industry is baffled at the prospect of being put on the EU safety hook

Related tags European union Omega-3 fatty acid European food safety authority

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will conduct a formal scientific review of omega-3 levels in the European Union following concerns raised by German authorities, something the omega-3 sector says it is ‘baffled’ by.

The agency has been commandeered to perform the review by the European Commission on the basis of a report from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) which outlines the rationale for a 1.5gm/day upper safe level for long-chain omega-3s like DHA, EPA and DPA. It has been handed nine months to deliver its findings.

There is currently no USL in the EU, while in the US, the Food and Drug Administration has recommended 3g per day.

The BfR report (in German) suggests harmful effects of over-consumption could include increased cholesterol levels, risk of cardiovascular mortality among long term users with cardiovascular disease, inhibited immune systems in the elderly, and anaemic effects. It can be found here.

Responding, Harry Rice from the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED) said:

“Regardless of being baffled by the Commission’s basis for requesting a scientific opinion from EFSA, we still contend that the concerns raised in the BfR’s report are unfounded and we aren’t the only ones.”

“At the beginning of July, the Steering Committee of the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety published its opinion on the safety of the omega-3 fatty acids. It came as no surprise that the Committee found no adverse effects up to levels as high as 6.9 grams/day for certain conditions.”

Norwegian position

The Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM) recently surveyed dosage levels and effects for a host of conditions including bleeding times; lipid peroxidation; inflammation and immunity; glucose metabolism and gastrointestinal disturbances.

After surveying the literature, they found that adverse effects were not present below 6.9g for bleeding times and concluded: "no tolerable upper intake level could be established."

Other negative effects were referenced in selected trials at 3.5g for lipid peroxidation; 5g for certain inflammation markers and 6g for gastrointestinal issues.

German position

Using different scenarios the BfR found between 3.7 and 16.7 per cent of the German population would exceed 1.5g of EPA/DHA/DPA per day.

But the agency acknowledged its opinion was, "a conservative procedure with a high degree of certainty which nonetheless is not necessarily achieved in reality".

At a recent EC committee meeting, delegates reminded member state attendees that EFSA had previously observed typical EU-wide consumption of EPA and DHA of between 80-420mg per day - lower than EFSA recommended levels to gain cardiovascular benefits.

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1 comment

The EFSA claims re omega 3 are wrong and misleading.

Posted by Michael A Crawford,

Jack Winkler is correct in demanding the EFSA withdraw its claim for omega 3 which implies all omega 3 are the same: this is simply uninformed, grossly misleading and not supported by any science.

Alphe-linolenic acid (ALA) the parent omega 3 is oxidised at the rate of nearly 60% in the first 24 hours after ingestion. Not so with docosahexaemnic acid (DHA) which is selectively incorprated into cell membranes and especially the brain during development. DHA is the major fatty acid component of the brain's signalling systems, where ALA is barely noticeable! The ability of humans to convert ALA to DHA is strikingly rate limited, a fact demonstrated in animals the 1970s and confirmed by subsequent human studies and agreed by 3 successive expert consultations of FAO and WHO in 1978, 1994 and the recent 2008-2011 report (

Nor has ALA the same properties as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which protects against thrombosis. Already in 1987 it was agreed that the individual members of the omega 3 family had distinctly different biological poreperties. (Proceedings of the AOCS short course on Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Eicosanoids. Ed. W.E.M Lands).

If the EFSA can get something so fundemental in lipid science so completely wriong, then one wonders what else they are getting wrong!

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