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CRN says fish oil standard might be better sans stab at fingerprinting fish

By Hank Schultz , 16-Jan-2013

The Council for Responsible Nutrition has submitted comments to the Codex Alimentarius Commission recommending substantive changes to the proposed draft standards for fish oils, the organization announced yesterday.

The proposed standard is one of several such standards for fish oils in existence or under development internationally.  The Global Organization for EPA and DHA Fatty Acids (GOED) has a fish oil monograph in place, and the United States Pharmacopoeial Convention (USP) has a draft fish oils monograph in comment phase on the Food Chemicals Codex forum.

Influential on international stage

The difference with the Codex Alimentarius effort is that it is potentially more influential internationally, at least in the case of trade disputes.  The World Trade Organization would use the document as a reference point to adjudicate a dispute if a country refused entry to a fish oil product on the basis that it didn’t meet standards, especially in the event that a given country might choose to impose a stricter standard.

Also, a number of smaller countries that lack the resources to develop a similar document on their own might adopt the new standard to define fish oils within their borders.

There are other differences among the documents with regard to technical specifications, too.  The development of such a document is a long process with a lot of players at the table, and inevitably not everyone gets all that they want, Duffy MacKay, ND, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for CRN told NutraIngredients-USA.

“One of the goals of US industry has been to work with Codex to make the Codex standard as close as possible to the GOED standard, if not the same.  Not all of that came to fruition,” he said.

Six areas of concern

CRN laid out six areas in which it recommended changes or further review of sections of the draft standard.  Four of these pertained to lists; lists of process methods to concentrate oils, lists of common preservative additives to fish oils, a list of contaminants and a list of analytical methods. CRN also weighed in on the subject of oxidation standards for flavored oils, and took issue with a table listing fatty acid profiles for oils from 12 fish species and for krill oil and squid oil.

This last concern is the most pressing, MacKay said. The table contains a lot data points;  amounts of 21 different fatty acids including EPA and DHA and, in the case of krill, a specification for phospholipids content.  This was assembled from submissions from stakeholders who remained anonymous for the purposes of assembling this data.  So, MacKay said, as matters stand now, there is no way to go back and verify the numbers.

“The biggest issue is the fatty acid table.  That fatty acid table that went into the current draft, it has changed a lot of times,” MacKay said.

“Now we have this table and none of it is traceable. From a scientist’s perspective, if you are about to set a standard for tuna oils (for example), you want to know where the data came from. At the minimum that table needs to be verified,” he said.

Fluid parameters set in stone

Further, MacKay said, CRN is uncomfortable with the concept of setting into stone parameters that can be fluid depending on where a particular sample of marine organisms was harvested, what it was feeding or (or, in the case of farmed salmon, was fed) and the time of year it was harvested.

So what would happen if company showed up with oil it knew came from anchovies, but because of seasonal or population variations fell outside of spec on one or more of the 21 parameters?

“If you don’t meet this profile, you are not an anchovy.  What if (the values in the chart) represent anchovies caught off South America and not those caught somewhere else?” Mackay asked.

“The majority of CRN members think that the table is a misguided attempt to identify fish and they don’t think the table should be in there at all,” he said.

“This standard is going into a new area where it is trying to differentiate species,” Mackay said. "They are trying to create a fingerprint."

On the subject of flavored oils, MacKay said, CRN was concurring with earlier observations that the proposed standard seemed to be creating a loophole for spoiled products.  Flavoring agents give false positives for rancidity tests as matters stand, but exempting flavored oils from testing for this reason means that unscrupulous operators could just dump some lemon flavor into a vat of rancid oil and claim an exemption because of the flavoring additive.  A new test needs to be developed to verify the freshness of flavored oils, MacKay said.

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