In Response: Omega-3s

March 25, 2011

Reflections from the first annual GOED Exchange.

By Harry B. Rice, Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s

On January 13 to 14, GOED (Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s) held its first annual conference, GOED Exchange 2011, in Salt Lake City, UT. For two days, attendees had the opportunity to learn about regulatory, scientific, and marketing issues facing their industry; to network; and, of course, debate with colleagues across the industry. The only disappointment of the Exchange came when the conference wound down and it was time to say good-bye.

Richard Carmona, MD, MPH, FACS, 17th Surgeon General of the United States and a staunch supporter of increasing military personnel’s intake of long-chain omega-3s, kicked off the first day of the Exchange, delivering the keynote address. His speech provided a spectacular launch into the first session of the morning on marketing.

For an hour and a half, Chris Shanahan of Frost & Sullivan, David Sprinkle of Packaged Facts, and Greg Stephens of the Natural Marketing Institute provided a thorough overview of the omega-3 market. This was followed by a regulatory session, with Devin Domond from the FTC and Gary Coody from FDA discussing enforcement in general and omega-3 claims specifically. The last speaker of the session was Mary Van Elswyk, PhD, RD, of Van Elswyk Consulting, who provided a comprehensive overview of omega-3 claims in the EU. After lunch, there were two plenary sessions, including one on sustainability and the other on the role of future sources of EPA and DHA.

At dinner that evening, in his presentation “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mental Health Risks among the U.S. Military,” Captain Joseph R. Hibbeln, MD, from the National Institutes of Health provided attendees with a compelling reason for increasing long-chain omega-3 intake in military personnel. At the risk of oversimplifying the message, lower levels of omega-3s have been found to correlate strongly with higher suicide risk. Over the last decade or more, I’ve had the privilege of hearing Dr. Hibbeln speak on numerous occasions, and his combination of wit and deep understanding of the role of EPA and DHA in mental health never ceases to amaze me. Undoubtedly, I learn something new every time.

On the morning of the second day of the Exchange, attendees were talking enthusiastically about the presentations from the day before while they eagerly waited for the first session to begin. While I thoroughly enjoyed every session, the first session of the morning on the early history of omega-3 research was magical-not just for me, but for most of the other attendees with whom I spoke. For an hour and a half, Jorn Dyerberg, PhD, MD, of the University of Copenhagen (retired); William Lands, PhD, of the National Institutes of Health (retired); and Michael Crawford, PhD, of London Metropolitan University captivated the audience by recounting their early research on EPA and DHA. It was an honor to be in the presence of who few would dispute are three of the founding fathers of omega-3 research. Admittedly, that was a hard act to follow, but Robert Martindale, PhD, MD, of Oregon Health Sciences University and Claudia Morris, MD, of the Children’s Hospital and Research Center of Oakland didn’t miss a beat as they presented on innovative medical uses of EPA and DHA.

In the afternoon, one of the regulatory sessions focused on the role of a Codex Standard in global regulations. The purpose of the session was to provide attendees with a better understanding of what the adoption of a Codex Standard means in general and then to provide an overview of the current efforts to establish a Codex Standard for marine oils. If adopted, such a standard would provide overarching requirements for quality and compositional factors for different marine oils. For over a year, an informal industry working group, of which GOED is a member, worked to provide feedback to the Delegation of Switzerland, which has submitted a proposal for new work. Whether or not the effort continues was to be determined at the Codex Committee on Fats and Oils meeting, held at the end of February in Penang, Malaysia.

The aforementioned is just a smattering of what took place at the GOED Exchange. The truth is that it doesn’t come close to representing the breadth of knowledge and expertise that was shared unselfishly for two days. The only way to really understand what I’m trying to communicate is to experience it for yourself. Thus said, GOED’s hope is that more people will share the experience with us in future years.