Fish oil sales in the US have gone from USD 35 million in 1995 to just under USD 1 billion in 2009. (Photo: Stock File/FIS)
Where is your fish oil coming from?
Thursday, October 14, 2010, 03:00 (GMT + 9)
Fish oil imports from China now make up around 20 per cent of the US fish oil market, according to an investigation by The Kansas City Star. Some believe that the country often exports hazardous products, which may include fish oil supplements, which is likely to affect consumers as one in five American adults currently use fish oil.
Further, the newspaper found that firms avoid import labelling rules and that federal authorities allow this.
Chinese fish oil has not been linked to big recalls or health scandals, and a spokesman for the country said its fish oil was of a good quality.
Nevertheless, consumer advocates and legal experts agree that consumers deserve to know where their fish oil is coming from.
While US manufacturers sometimes struggle to meet quality standards, China has had severe problems, including with drug ingredients, said Sidney Wolfe of the Public Citizen Health Research Group.
And while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules say supplement labels should state the country of origin, the US Customs and Border Control, which is in charge of the matter, has been letting importers skirt the law.
Those companies said that bottling the capsules in the US “transforms” them into a US product, precluding their need to be labeled as imports.
Although the Chinese factories making fish oil capsules for export to the US ought to meet FDA standards, the FDA has never inspected any Chinese dietary supplement plants. Also, Chinese companies have not shown interest in letting independent third parties inspect their plants.
Fish oil sales in the US have boomed quickly, from USD 35 million in 1995 to USD 359 million in 2005 and just under USD 1 billion in 2009, according to Nutrition Business Journal. Sales are expected to reach USD 2 billion by 2014.
The Star reviewed all shipments of the fish oil supplement from China to the US from January 2009 through July 2010 to learn how much fish oil manufactured in China is coming to the US.
A recent poll sponsored by the Pew Prescription Project determined that 70 per cent of respondents in the US had little or no confidence in Chinese drugs and would want to know if they were purchasing products made in China.
Both NSF, a standards and testing organisation, and the Natural Products Association, a trade group, audit some plants in China to check if they meet FDA standards - but only a few Chinese companies have participated in the monitoring.
“There are very, very good ones, and there are very, very bad ones,” commented Ed Wyszumiala, general manager of the dietary supplements program for NSF.
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