Searching for a Standard for Fish Oil

April 17, 2013

3 Min Read
Searching for a Standard for Fish Oil

by James C. Griffiths, Ph.D.

Fish oil is an increasingly popular dietary supplement and functional food ingredient. With so much interest in this ingredient, demand has steadily increased. Along with increased demand, there are shortages, and also opportunities for contamination and adulteration. So it should not come as a surprise that Codex Alimentarius, the World Health Organization/Food and Agricultural Organization (WHO/FAO) food standard setting body, is developing a standard for fish oil. Led by the Swiss delegation, a draft standard has been developed by an interested group of country agencies and circulated for comments to interested parties, primarily governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with permanent or observer standing with Codex. The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) independently and through partnerships with other like-minded NGOs such as the International Alliance for the Dietary Supplement Associations (IADSA), has very closely examined the draft and developed a number of specific related questions and concerns. Although on the surface the draft standard may have seemed logical and appropriate, in fact, some of the elements discussed were quite contentious, and led to the raison d'être for remanding back to the electronic Working Group (eWG). The following areas sparked the most debate:

The eventual standard will apply only to fish oils used in food and food supplements, and thus not be applicable to crude fish oilsalthough crude fish oil would be covered as a raw material in the production of food/food supplement refinements;

The number of named fish oils (family, genus species), the taxonomy, the distinguishing fatty acid profiles, the modification steps (de-vitaminization, low-oxidation), the source (wild, famed), etc.;

The fatty acid profile table, the analytical source of the listed data, the broadness/narrowness of the ranges, the acceptable variations from geographical, climatic, feed, varietals/sub-species, etc., the listing of applicable food additives" to fish oil, including the use of flavorings, antioxidant synergists, chelating agents, sequestrants, anti-foaming agents, colors, novel antioxidants, including rosemary extract, astaxanthin, lecithin, citric acid, tocopherol and ascorbyl palmitate, etc.;

And the issue of contaminants in fish oil, including the presence or limitations to arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans, pesticide residues, veterinary drug residues, etc.

All of the points listed abovewith the possible exception of the firstwill need further input from knowledgeable countries and organizations, and CRN intends to remain a part of the ongoing discussion.

Since the discussion with our international colleagues, the draft Codex fish oil standard was remanded back to the eWG, chaired by Switzerland, for redrafting and recirculationwith a discussion expected at the 2015 Codex Committee on Fats and Oils (CCFO).

CRN, which has several members in this space, along with other affiliated associations and country governmental delegations, will continue to play a key role in assisting the eWG in developing a workable and globally-acceptable standard for this very important dietary supplement, functional food ingredient.

James C. Griffiths, Ph.D., D.A.B.T., is vice president, scientific and international affairs, for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a trade association for the dietary supplement industry . Visit for more information.


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