Canola omega-3 gains USDA regulatory approval

September 5, 2018

An Australian company called Nuseed, a subsidiary of Nufarm Ltd., announced that USDA has deregulated the company’s proprietary omega-3 canola for cultivation in the U.S.

Those seeking a source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids beyond fish are one step closer to a plant-based alternative: canola. An Australian company called Nuseed, a subsidiary of Nufarm Ltd., announced that USDA has deregulated the company’s proprietary omega-3 canola for cultivation in the U.S. The company next hopes to obtain FDA approval for the omega-3 canola, which it wants to launch commercially next year.

Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are highly desirable due to the numerous health benefits attributed to long-chain omega-3s, not only for humans but also for fish who, through aquaculture, are often fed fish-derived EPA and DHA. Currently, most long-chain omega-3s are heavily sourced from fish stock. A plant-based source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids is highly desirable to relieve pressure on fish stocks. A crop like canola would open up a new, plant-based route to long-chain omega-3s.

Currently, there are no plant-based sources of long-chain omega-3s on the market. There are currently plant sources of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax and chia seeds. These yield the short-chain omega-3s fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which converts, to a small degree, to long-chain omega-3 DHA and EPA; however, the conversion is very small overall.

By contrast, Nuseed says its omega-3 canola would be the “world’s first plant-based source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.” According to Nuseed, one hectare of its omega-3 canola can potentially yield the equivalent of omega-3 that would be obtained from 10,000 kilograms of wild-caught fish.

“Long-chain omega-3 DHA and EPA are essential for human and fish health,” the company said in its press release. “This new proprietary product aims to help relieve pressure on wild fish stocks, which are the current sources of these important nutrients. By providing a land-based source of these oils, Nuseed will help maintain adequate supply to meet increasing global demand for long-chain omega-3s.”

Another company, Cargill (Minneapolis), has been working on a similar omega-3 canola development. In 2016, Cargill announced it is working with BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany) to develop canola oil rich in EPA and DHA. The companies said it “could give aquaculture farmers a more sustainable way to raise fish rich in EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acids” and “provide an alternative to using fish oil in aquaculture feed and could ease harvest pressure on wild fish populations that currently supply much of that oil.”

Nuseed’s USDA approval means the company can now cultivate crop on U.S. soil. Already, the company planted 15,000 acres of its omega-3 canola in Montana earlier this year under USDA notification. This crop is now being harvested. “The oil produced from this crop is destined for ongoing precommercial trials in key markets,” Nuseed says.

In a press release, the company called the USDA approval “a critical first step toward global regulatory approval of omega-3 canola,” noting that the company’s submission to FDA is still “being processed,” although the company “anticipates” approval “prior to the 2019 U.S. cropping season.”

If approved, Nuseed first plans to commercialize its omega-3 canola for aquaculture as a feed ingredient called Aquaterra. After that, the company wants to expand into human nutrition applications under the brand name Nutriterra.