Finished products containing EPH, DHA or ALA can claim to be sources of "omega-3", yet EPA and DHA are significantly more bioavailable than ALA. The shorter long-chain omega-3 fatty acid ALA is a precursor to DHA, and has to be converted by the body before it can be used.
As such, the omega-3 trade association formed to increase the EPA/DHA market and advocate regulatory approvals internationally for the fatty acids - concretizing an emerging movement to raise public awareness of the longer chain omega-3s and differentiate them from ALA.
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are derived from marine sources such as oily fish, and DHA can also be derived from microalgae. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is derived from plant sources such as flaxseed.
While EPA and DHA are 20- and 22-chain chain carbons respectively, ALA is an 18-carbon. Some of the cognitive, heart health and antioxidant benefits are lost in the conversion process elongating ALA's carbon chain.
"There is a huge nutrition gap that will not begin to close until regulations are updated to reflect the results of thousands of clinical studies - only then will be the public begin to have access to the daily amount of Omega-3 EPA and DHA their bodies need to reap the health benefits," said Robert Orr, president and CEO of Ocean Nutrition Canada.
EPA and DHA did get a regulatory pat on the back from the US Food & Drug Administration in 2004, with the approval of an EPA/DHA health claim for coronary heart disease. The same has not happened in other countries though. For instance, in Europe health claims legislation is being finalised and it may be some time before products bearing approved claims are actually on shelves. In the meantime, EPA/DHA manufacturers are keen to promote awareness that omega-3 on labels does not distinguish between EPA, DHA or ALA sources.
The debate is likely to get more attention as the market for a gamut of omega-3 products grows. Data from Mintel's Global New Products Database charts 745 new omega-3 products introduced in North America and Europe in 2006 to date - up from 48 new products in the same category in 1998.
The Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED Omega-3) has been formed out of the dissolution of the Council for Responsible Nutrition's omega-3 working group, and it aims to take on a broader mandate more suited to a trade association. The 12 founding members of the organization, members of the old CRN group, say they intend to build on the direction of the former initiative and focus on product quality and industry acceptance of a voluntary omega-3 monograph.
The GOED Omega-3's office is located in Salt Lake City, Utah, with a "start-up" committee consisting of Orr; Philip Fass, vice president of sales and marketing at Martek Biosciences; Bjorn Rene, vice president of sales at Napro Pharma; and Ian Newton, president of Ceres Consulting.
GOED Omega-3's first meeting is set for October 6 at Expo East in Baltimore, Maryland, and the second meeting is scheduled for Supply Side West in Las Vegas.
The founding member companies are: Cargill, Ceres Consulting, Croda, Denomega, EPAX, Loders, Lonza/Nutranova, Marine Nutraceuticals, Martek Biosciences, Napro Pharma AS, Ocean Nutrition Canada and Omega Pure.
"Our target is to have a membership of at least 30 companies by the end of the 2006 calendar year," said Philip Fass.