GOED has grown rapidly in a short time—from 12 members in 2007 to 130 today. During the last year alone, membership increased 51%, reflecting both a growing omega-3 industry and consumer interest.
As the organization tells it, it initially formed with the intent to help establish omega-3 health claims and ensure quality production standards for omega-3 suppliers. However, it quickly became apparent that GOED would play a much more critical role in omega-3’s future. “No one foresaw the need to be omega-3’s advocate, in the protection arena,” says Adam Ismail, executive director.
Harry Rice, PhD, vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs, recounts his first GOED project, at the end of 2006. “We were immediately thrown into the huge task of revising European hygiene regulations that would have banned the import of fish oils in the EU,” he says.
This set the tone for what the industry would expect GOED to accomplish. “We immediately earned respect as an organization. And every year since, there has been a new crisis [to handle],” says Rice.
This year, GOED was called on to help industry in the aftermath of a lawsuit that could have cast an unfavorable light on the entire omega-3 fish oil supplement community. The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco against six fish oil manufacturers and two retailers for alleged labeling violations of the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, otherwise known as Proposition 65. The lawsuit claimed that the fish oil products failed to include label warnings for levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl compounds) in the products.
“A loophole in the law was being exploited,” says Ismail. “We knew we could help by working out a set of standards for the industry to follow and by conveying the message that every company should establish safe levels of contaminants.”
He continues, “Our goal is to establish standards that make it a black-and-white distinction between what can be sold in California and what can’t. Right now, it’s a gray area, and that’s what allows for lawsuits like this.” The lawsuit is still ongoing, and GOED continues working toward establishing these standards.
Besides fighting such battles on behalf of industry, GOED’s mission is highlighting the positive science behind omega-3s EPA and DHA. In 2012, it will focus more on conveying this information to consumers. Another challenge is helping consumers understand the correct adequate intake levels and omega-3’s benefits beyond heart health.
Helping advance the industry’s knowledge is equally important. GOED hosted its first GOED Exchange conference this year, which brought together omega-3 researchers, government officials, regulatory body representatives, and dieticians to discuss topics affecting the omega-3 industry. Speakers included the former U.S. Surgeon General. “Leading experts from around the world conveyed very valuable information to the industry. We’re already preparing for next year’s conference on June 11-13 in Boston, and aiming high again,” says Ismail.
GOED also organized a scientific symposium with the Chinese Nutrition Society in November, to educate healthcare professionals in China about omega-3 benefits. “China is a rapidly growing market for omega-3s right now. The challenge has been in educating people about their benefits. Establishing a good connection there now will be beneficial to the industry,” says Rice.
GOED has also joined forces with eight other scientific and trade organizations to petition the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to review and update dietary reference intakes (DRIs) for EPA and DHA omega-3s. IOM requires government funding to conduct a DRI review. With this in mind, in 2009 GOED created a website through which the public can comment on the petition, asking legislative representatives to support funding.
GOED says it is likely to be a lengthy battle. “It takes a long time to launch a DRI review, and the major issue is funding. It requires petitioning government agencies, but it will be tough to get any money right now,” says Rice.
However, it’s a challenge worth taking on because having a DRI may make it easier to one day achieve a full health claim. (GOED would like to see the current qualified health claim for omega-3s changed to a full health claim, without the qualifying language.)
“We believe the science is there to support a qualified health claim, but the challenge will lie in convincing FDA,” says Ismail. “In my view, the United States is far behind other countries in acknowledging the importance of omega-3s. Europe is establishing clear-cut claims, and we’re not doing that here yet.”
Ismail is most proud of the team he’s created at GOED. “We have a very experienced group of all-stars, who all play a vital role,” he says. “We also have a lot of fun doing this work, even though a crisis.”