August 24, 2005
Contact: Kathleen Goldstein, Environmental Defense, 202-572-3243
(August 24, 2005 - New York, NY) Environmental Defense today released the updated results of its fish oil supplement survey, which determined the best and worst choices based on company responses concerning removal of environmental contaminants. Since the original release in March, 28 companies have had their status changed or have been added to the list. And, more than 80% of the companies contacted comply with the strictest standards. This is encouraging since consumers are increasingly taking fish oil supplements for their beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and want to know that the products are safe.
"Fish oil supplements are a great way to reduce your risk of heart disease, but all supplements are not created equal," said Environmental Defense scientist Dr. Rebecca Goldburg. "Consumers should be aware of potential risks from environmental contaminants such as PCBs and dioxins. The fact that more companies have voluntarily come forward with this information since the original release of our study shows that they recognize this is an important issue to their customers and impacts the way they do business."
Sales of such omega-3 supplements have more than tripled since 1998, reaching $190 million in 2003. However, unpurified fish oil supplements can contain unsafe levels of environmental contaminants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The presence of pollutants is a widespread problem, not just in oils but in popular fish such as tuna, swordfish and farmed salmon as well.
"Environmental contaminants like PCBs and dioxins are potent developmental and neurological toxins," said Environmental Defense health program director Dr. John Balbus, MD, MPH. "People take supplements to be healthy, but if they don't choose the right ones they could be sabotaging themselves."
Environmental Defense originally surveyed 54 major producers and suppliers of fish oil supplements in the United States to see if and how they were addressing health risks from environmental contaminants. The organization also evaluated standards from a number of U.S. and foreign government agencies. Since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and State of California (Proposition 65) limits were the most protective of human health, these standards were used as the survey's baseline. In addition, the Council for Responsible Nutrition – a trade association comprising many of the companies surveyed – has established voluntary standards equal to or more stringent than those set by EPA and California's Proposition 65.
"We are encouraged by the number of companies that voluntarily cooperated with Environmental Defense’s efforts to make this information public," said Council for Responsible Nutrition past President and consultant Annette Dickinson, Ph.D. "We are pleased, too, that so many companies are taking care to manufacture fish oil supplements that rate high in purity and quality."
Since the original survey was conducted, 21 companies have been added to Environmental Defense's survey, and 7 others have upgraded their status by providing additional information. More than 80% (61) of the 75 companies now verify that they meet the strictest U.S. standards for contaminants. These companies use highly effective purification processes - molecular distillation and steam deodorization - to separate pollutants from the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. 21 companies' responses were incomplete, and seven companies did not respond.
Overall, fish oil supplements are an ecologically acceptable as well as healthful choice for consumers. But, in the future consumers will ideally be able to choose fish oil supplements that are not only properly purified, but also derived only from well-managed, ecologically sound fisheries.
To learn more or view the survey chart, visit www.oceansalive.org/eat.cfm.