Natural Foods Merchandiser

Are fish oils safe?

Short answer: Yes.
Indeed, fish-oil supplements have long been seen as the safe and effective alternative to eating actual fish. In 2000, when the fish oil supplements world was just finding its sea legs, a consortium of players cooperated on establishing purity standards—precisely to forestall any potential future purity scandal.

In 2008,, which prides itself on outing supplements manufacturers of all stripes for failing label claims, had to admit that all 52 fish oil supplement products it pulled off shelves passed purity testing with flying colors.

Which leads us to the March hubbub about fish oils.

The story: A lawsuit was filed in California, backed by the state’s Proposition 65, which sets heavy-metal testing safety levels many times lower than any other state, nation or organization. (For example, the Food and Drug Administration’s tolerance level for PCBs is 2,000 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency’s level is 500 ppb. In California, it’s 90 ppb.) The lawsuit claimed that eight fish-oil supplements failed Prop. 65’s stringent standards for PCBs.

Take note: All eight products used large fish—cod, shark and salmon—as their oil source. But more than 90 percent of fish-oil products on the market use anchovies and sardines, according to the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3. If it doesn’t otherwise say so, it’s probably anchovies and sardines. This is important because larger fish accumulate toxins, and anchovies and sardines are tiny species never known for their heavy-metal accumulation. Also, most fish-oil suppliers molecularly distill the oil, which cleans it.

Nevertheless, retailers should ask any potential manufacturer for supply-source information (company name, fish species) and test results for contaminant (PCBs, mercury) levels of products they’re looking to put on their shelves. Reputable companies will send results straight away.

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