Updated: Groups Submit Comments on Codex’s Proposed Draft Standard for Fish Oil

January 15, 2013

If successful, this standard will be the first Codex Alimentarius standard created for fish oils.

With today the deadline to submit comments on a finalized draft of the Codex Alimentarius Commission’s proposed standards for fish oil, members of the project’s electronic working group, including the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC), are sharing their comments.

If successful, this standard will be the first Codex Alimentarius standard created for fish oils. (The Codex Alimentarius Commission is part of the joint FAO/WHO that develops international food standards.)The proposed standard applies to oil from fish-as well as from marine sources shellfish and krill-used in food and food supplements.

In November 2012, the Secretariat of the Codex Alimentarius Commission received the finalized draft, as did the project’s electronic working group for review and comment by today, January 15, 2013. Next, the Codex Committee on Fats and Oils (CCFO), which oversees the project, will discuss the proposed draft at its meeting coming up in late February in Malaysia to determine next steps.

One controversial portion of the draft is an extensive table listing the fatty acid composition of oils that purportedly should be present in specific fish species. CRN questions the accuracy of this list and its range of suggested values because it has not been vetted nor confirmed by any third-party entity. In fact, fatty acid profile might not be the best tool for confirming a fish’s species because fatty acid profiles can fluctuate due to such factors as a fishery’s geographic location, food sources, and environmental and seasonal conditions, says Douglas MacKay, ND, CRN’s vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.

“If anchovies typically have 18% EPA present, but global warming causes their EPA levels to eventually fall to 12%, according to the table, can we still call them anchovies?” he asked in an interview with Nutritional Outlook.

Another argument is that sections of the draft that list appropriate processing methods is restrictive because it may not account for all methods currently used or methods that will be developed in the future.

“Some members believe this standard is ahead of its time in the sense that it can set a standard of what fish oil is today, which means not only the oil but the fatty acid content plus the preservatives that are allowed to be used and the types of concentration processing that is allowed. But veterans of the dietary supplement industry know that this has big possibilities to inhibit innovation in the future,” MacKay says. For instance, he explains, if industry invents new, better preservatives for fish oil in, says, five years, those preservatives either would not meet Codex standards if they are not on the list, or Codex would need to go through the arduous process of adding them to the standard.

CRN, as well as other commenters such as the Federation of European Specialty Food Ingredients Industries (ELC; Brussels), pointed out other problem areas as well, with issues related to which food additives are allowed in fish oil, as well as oxidation parameters for flavored fish oils.

When asked what’s likely to happen to the draft following February’s CCFO meeting, MacKay says it all depends on what happens at the meeting. “If numerous member states say they have a problem with this draft, the Commission will have to decide on what next steps to take,” he says.

Update on February 26, 2013: At the close of its February meeting, the Codex Committee on Fats and Oils "agreed that more work needs to be done before adopting a standard," reports the association the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).

"The CCFO reached agreement on the scope and description of the Standard, but could not reach agreement yet on other areas. Switzerland will continue to chair an electornic Working Group (eWG) to redraft the Standard," GOED stated, also pointing out that the Codex Committee did take into account industry's concerns. Feasibly, GOED says, it could be years before a standard is finally adopted.