Norwegian omega-3 rancidity safety concerns based on “troubling” lack of science, says GOED

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Norwegian omega-3 rancidity safety concerns based on “troubling” lack of science, says GOED

Related tags: Fish oil, Nutrition

The omega-3 industry has defended its products against suggestions raised in a recent Norwegian scientific agency report that omega-3 oxidation (rancidity) could have negative consequences for human health.

The Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM) said there was insufficient data to perform a quantitative health risk assessment, but found via a qualitative assessment that oxidation in omega-3 products could cause health problems.

“…animal studies with whole oxidised vegetable oils indicate that high doses can affect health negatively, but the data were not sufficient for risk assessment. Based on the very limited information available, VKM concludes that there is some concern related to regular consumption of oxidised marine oils,”​ the report found.

It added: “Long-term exposure to dietary lipid peroxides may also have negative effects locally in the gastrointestinal tract.”

Responding the Global Organisation for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs, Harry Rice, PhD, said it was based on a, “curious, actually troubling”​ lack of scientific data.

The concern stems from a small number of animal studies demonstrating a ‘potential’ negative health effect from large doses of highly oxidised vegetable oils,”​ Rice told NutraIngredients.

“While VKM's report notes a lack of published scientific studies on the effects of oxidation products on human health, research currently under review for publication demonstrates no link between the consumption of 8g of rancid fish oil – equivalent to 1.6g of omega-3 – per day for seven weeks and adverse health effects.”

Rice added that the European Food Safety Authority had said in a 2010 that there was a lack of scientific literature demonstrating any adverse links between the consumption of oxidised fish oil and health.

Rice added: “Oxidation of dietary fat is part of normal metabolism.”

No evidence of risk or harm

GOED executive director, Adam Ismail, said VKM scientists were entitled to be cautious about safety issues, but added, “in this case there is no evidence to support those concerns.”

“In fact, one researcher who was at the presentation said he had just completed the first ever study on oxidized fish oils in humans and the study was still in process of being published, but his results found no evidence whatsoever of any risk or harm from consumption of fish oil that was far more oxidized than what consumers get.”

Ismail noted the fact the report was far from government policy.

“VKM is a government advisory body like EFSA is to the European Commission. So this report does not represent any formal policy of the Norwegian government, only the opinion of the scientists that were appointed to this panel,”​ he said.

“Unbalanced to the point of irresponsibility”

Elements of the report were mirrored in a documentary shown recently on Norwegian television that questioned fish oil sustainability and safety, especially that emanating from South American fisheries like Peru.

GOED said the programme contained many inaccuracies such as citing production intended for animal feed as for humans, and failing to note that European imports from South America or other fisheries had to come from approved facilities.

The International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organisation labeled the show, “unbalanced to the point of irresponsibility.”

The VKM report can be found here.

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