Industry representatives have dismissed media reports that fish oil imports from China threaten the health of US consumers while acknowledging the need for some Chinese producers to improve quality.
Their comments followed reports in the Kansas City Star that fish oil exports from China, a country the publication noted was "notoriious for hazardous products," now accounted for about 20 percent of the US market.
Adam Ismail, executive director of GOED (the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega 3s) told NutraIngredients-USA.com: "There have been no safety issues related to the imports of Chinese fish oils."
But ultimately, it was more important that the fish oil was produced under the right quality control processes rather than in a specific country.
"There are a lot of good fish oils produced in China but also some that we would prefer are manufactured with better controls in place," he said.
GOED membership currently includes two Chinese but not encapsulators.
"We would like to see more of the Chinese industry embrace the tradition of high quality that has helped contribute to the growth of the industry," he said.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition agreed that the quality of production was more important than origin.
Duffy MacKay, vice president scientific and regulatory affairs, told NutraIngredients-USA.com: "Asking about the country of origin is the wrong question. The question should be what are the quality management systems in place and GMPs used by suppliers regardless of what country they are based and are these adequate."
Foreign manufacturers producing products for sale in the US must follow US GMPs for these products.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has offices in China and India in order to inspect manufacturing standards in those countries. It also works closely with customs to screen regulated products at ports of entry.
"While they are early in the process and have much to accomplish, the goal is to hold these foreign manufacturers to the same standards as US-based companies," said MacKay.
Meanwhile, Ismail said that claims that the Chinese fish oil imports accounted for 20 percent of the US market were misleading.
"The indication is misleading because very little of this oil is refined in China. Most is refined in North America and Europe and then shipped to China to be encapsulated and then to the US to be bottled."
China accounts for less than three percent of the bulk oil imports but almost 90 percent of the capsules being imported.
"This means that almost all of the 80 percent of the volume [the publication] said was not coming from China was being imported into the US as bulk oil and being encapsulated here."
Last year, the size of the US fish oil market was estimated at between 28,000 and 30,000 tons.