Third-party certifiers are gearing up to help manufacturers and marketers of omega-3 fish oils ensure their products contain safe levels of pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals like mercury.
The action comes on top of warnings issued by food standards agencies in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand about the dangers of mercury contamination in popular omega-3 source fishes such as tuna and salmon. Recent studies show farm-raised salmon and cod liver oils contain vastly higher levels of heavy metals than whole-body fish oils. Farmed fish samples contained PCB levels equivalent to 63-312 fish oil capsules.
While the news is bad for fishermen and fish farmers, the findings have presented fish oil purveyors with a comparative marketing opportunity. ?This is a great advantage for fish oils,? said Karen Todd, senior marketing manager for DSM, which supplies a branded fish oil ingredient, Ropufa. ?If you can?t eat fish, eat fish oils in supplemental form.?
William J Rowe, president and CEO of certifier Nutrasource Diagnostics in Canada, said manufacturers should compare a supplier?s Certificate of Analysis (C of A) with that of a third-party source to ensure fish oils are of the highest quality. ?If those two C of A?s are within a ballpark of each other, the reliability and integrity of those testing results are typically valid,? he said. ?Supplier C of A?s are at the raw material level and so encapsulation, bottling, nitrogen purging and flavouring issues arise, which can contribute to discrepancies between the raw material source and off-the-shelf testing result.?
Independent purity standards have also been established by the US-based Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) after it convened a 24-company international working group. Begun as a supplier initiative, the standards are based on the European Pharmacopoeia, California?s Proposition 65 regarding heavy metal toxicity, and the input of the working group.
?These standards provide guidelines for suppliers,? said CRN president Annette Dickinson. ?For manufacturers, they can use the standards as a screen for the quality of oils they purchase.? Nutrasource?s International Fish Oil Standards programme is typically twice as stringent as CRN and World Health Organization guidelines. ?We took the internationally accepted WHO standard of quality in the omega-3 industry for contaminant levels, and the CRN standards for mercury oxidation and PCBs and put it together,? said Rowe.
?Manufacturers and marketers should also do their own tests on a regular basis to control the quality of the oil,? added Bjorn Englestad at Pronova Biocare.
Recent Good Manufacturing Practices rules and ISO certifications also have been instrumental in improving the quality of omega-3 products.