UK omega-3 health claim welcomed across Europe

The UK has become the first country outside the US to grant an omega-3 fish oil health claim that manufacturers throughout Europe have begun applying to their products.

The claim, issued by the respected Joint Health Claims Initiative (JHCI), made up of consumer protection groups, food law enforcers and members of the food industry, states: ?Eating 3g weekly, or 0.45g daily, long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, as part of a healthy lifestyle, helps maintain heart health.?

Although ?soft? claims relating to omega-3 brain, heart and other health benefits have been found on products in various markets, this definitive claim was expected to provide a boost in the UK for fish oil ingredients and products. Other markets were expected to benefit, too. ?This is the first time that such an authoritative endorsement of the claim has been issued in the UK,? the JHCI stated.

Given that most European populations fall well short of recommended oily fish servings per week (a 2004 UK Food Standards Agency report found 74 per cent of Brits never eat oily fish), food formulators are working hard to develop other ways of increasing fish oil intake, and a wide range of products including eggs, breads, crackers, milks, cheeses and juices are expected to carry the claim before the year is out.

Jerry Luff, executive vice president of business development at UK-based fish oil supplier Nu-Mega, said the claim would focus attention on the fish oils health message. ?Manufacturers of products that have healthy heart messages are excited about the ability to make claims on their packaging,? he said. ?These claims help validate the area and endorse and lift the profile of omega-3s.?

He expected some of these products would be launched outside the UK market. ?The fact the claim has been approved in the UK acts as a precedent for impending EU regulations and for initiatives by food manufacturers in other member states,? he observed. ?Because the JHCI has a firm scientific grounding, it is likely claims it grants will be permissible in other member states. But it is important to acknowledge that not all foods are suitable for the claim. The food platform must be of a healthy nature in the first place.?

Bernd Haber, the head of regulatory and scientific affairs at German-based ingredients supplier Nutrinova, said he expected the claim to spur product development in Germany.

Maggie McGinlay, director of Scottish Food & Drink at Scottish Enterprise, which initiated the Scottish Omega-3 Group, said: ?This is marvellous news for the industry, as an endorsement from the JHCI is rare.?

UK-based supplements manufacturer Efamol said it would be employing the claim. ?This claim will authenticate one of the many benefits of how essential fatty acids can benefit human health,? said managing director Peter Clough. ?We will certainly be using the claim.?

Analyst Frost & Sullivan estimates the European omega-3 fatty acids market at $195 million and forecasts annual growth of eight per cent until 2010.

The claim is only the fifth the JHCI has approved.

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