Wael Massrieh, R&D director at Canadian krill oil firm Neptune Technologies and Bioressources, was speaking to NutraIngredients-USA.com after fellow supplier Aker Biomarine claimed some firms were marketing cheap ‘krill oil’ that contained “next to no phospholipid s” (authentic krill oil has at least 40 percent phospholipids).
The development of a monograph for pure krill oil would help, although the one being worked on via global omega-3 EPA and DHA organization GOED would probably take at least a couple of years to develop, predicted Massrieh.
FTC should investigate
Another monograph being developed by the US Pharmacopeia was at a more advanced stage of development and should also raise awareness about what to look for when testing for pure krill oil, said Massrieh.
"We've seen a product out there that has barely any phospholipids at all, which just damages all the work we are doing about the benefits of krill oil. It is something we think the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should be looking at because it's false advertising. But it would help if they had a monograph to work with."
Given that the FTC had a "million and one things" it could potentially investigate, false advertising claims about krill oil were probably not high up the priority list however, as the fake 'krill oil' in question did not represent a safety risk, said Massrieh.
The other challenge was that many labs were not using the appropriate methods for testing krill oil, he said.
And as firms could source all of the key components in krill from cheaper sources, just testing for the presence of omega-3s, or phospholipids, for example, was not helpful.
"You can get astaxanthin from other sources [than krill oil] to get the red color, get phospholipids from soy and use fish oils to get the EPA and DHA, but in krill oil, the phospholipids are bound to the omega-3s, which are in turn bound to the astaxanthin, which is found at the highest levels in Neptune krill oils. And that's what makes a big difference.
"When we first started to see some of these 'red oils' hit the market a few years ago we tested them and they just do not deliver the same benefits as pure krill oil."
Ed Wyszumiala, general manager of dietary supplement programs at NSF International, said that different analytical testing approaches were needed for determining the EPA/DHA omega-3 levels in fish oil compared with krill oil, for example.
"I think it's good that the issue of appropriate testing methods for krill oil is being talked about as it has been a learning curve for all of us. We have been working with key suppliers to refine our methodology."
GOED: Always read the label
Adam Ismail, executive director at GOED, said krill oil was a premium product with a correspondingly premium price tag, and buyers should be wary if the prices they are being offered appear too good to be true.
“Krill is a premium product, and low-quality or inexpensive materials should cause companies to question whether more identity tests are needed to verify the source.”
He added: "The krill oil market is growing very rapidly, and as we have seen with other aspects of the omega-3 market this means there are a lot of new entrants. The research has centered on the original Antarctic krill oil products that were in the market, but other species of krill inhabit vastly different areas of the oceans.
“We are seeing some products enter the market trying to capitalize on the Antarctic krill research that are either from these other species or are combinations of vegetable phospholipids and fish oils.
"The Antarctic krill companies are working on developing a consensus monograph that will help to be able to detect authentic krill oil, and in fact most companies already have their own methods.”
As for ongoing concerns about the sustainability of krill oil production, CCAMLR (Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) had set precautionary catch limits and strict geographical fishing zones to protect the krill fishery, said Ismail.
“Today's harvest is well below these limits, and in fact at the GOED Exchange in January, Dr Simeon Hill from the British Antarctic Survey said today's catch is indeed likely to be sustainable, but there are some questions that need to be answered before we approach the precautionary limit.”
Every krill company GOED dealt with had recognized the need for further research to ensure that the krill fishery was sustainable but other species were minimally impacted, he added.
“It is encouraging that the industry uses independent observers and that independent sustainability certifying agencies have agreed that the fishery is being well-managed today.
“Like all products that come from nature, including fish oils, the industry has to remain responsible about managing the resources, but also be proactive about educating consumers and the rest of the industry about the steps that have been taken."