Consumer awareness of the term omega-3 has skyrocketed in recent years, but not everyone is aware that there are several different forms of the essential fatty acid, with different degrees of health benefit.
One of the main factors contributing to awareness has been the health claim approval for omega-3, both in foods and supplements, in September 2004, linking longer-chain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicopentasaenoic acid) to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
DHA and EPA are often sourced from fish oil - although microalgae is also becoming established as an alternative source of DHA.
A third form of omega-3 is also available: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), derived from plants such as flax. Although undoubtedly ALA has its benefits, especially in products intended for vegetarians, it must be converted by the body into a longer-chain fatty acid before it can be used, and some of the benefit is lost along the way.
"We believe our industry us responsible for ensuring consumers have access to accurate product information to help them make the best choice for their health," said Manny Sabares, marketing director of Bioriginal.
However recent data from Mintel indicated that the majority of omega-3-containing products in Europe used vegetarian omega-3 over fish oils. This means that, unless the source and nutritional value is clearly identified, consumers may look no further than the 'omega-3' wording - and may not be receiving as great a benefit as they think they are.
Bioriginal's new consultancy service, called 'Truth in Labeling', is being introduced initially for North American companies.
According to Sabares, marketers of fish and plant oil supplements need guidance on labeling as they have to bear in mind guidelines from governments and regulatory authorities (which may vary by market), private certification organizations, and industry associations.
The company can provide guidance on purity and health claims, appropriate dose levels, nutritional information, ingredient statements, third party certifications and accurate marketing information.
Such guidance is applicable across its entire product range (including omega-6 fatty acids as well as omega-3).