Codex fish oil standard swims to the finish

After 6 years of formally working on the fish oil standard, the 25th Session of the Codex Committee on Fats and Oils (CCFO) agreed to forward the Draft Fish Oil Standard to the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) for final adoption at its July meeting

Many people have asked what this means for the industry. This new standard has the potential to help standardise regulations around the world for fish oil quality and the identification of specific named fish oils.1

Although Codex is a standard setting body, there are countries (in Asia) that adopt, in part or in full, Codex standards as regulation. The standard should have minimal impact on the industry, as it will not restrict free trade.

Six years may seem like a long time, but consider that the issue of elaborating a standard for fish oils was first introduced more than 40 years ago during the Sixth Session (17–20 November 1969) of the CCFO.

Discussions continued at the Seventh (25–29 March 1974), Eighth (24–28 November 1975) and Ninth Sessions (28 November–2 December 1977) when the effort was temporarily abandoned.

And whereas the fish oil standard will be officially adopted in July, important outstanding issues remain that need to be monitored and/or addressed by CCFO as well as by other Codex committees (detailed below).

One key feature of the standard is that named fish oils (such as salmon oil) must meet a specific fatty acid profile to be called by its designated name.

In the near future, the Codex Secretariat will issue a request to member countries and observers to monitor the application of the fish oil standard with respect to the conformity of named fish oils with the requirements, especially the fatty acid profile, and its effect on trade. This information will be discussed at the CCFO session in 2019.

Codex Committee for Contaminants in Food (CCCF)

The 11th Session of the CCCF concluded on 7 April and a review of the draft report reveals a decision to set a maximum level (ML) of inorganic arsenic in fish oils of 0.1 mg/kg. This issue was referred to the CCCF by the CCFO as part of its work on the fish oil standard.2

Currently, there is an ML for total arsenic in the General Standard for Contaminants and Toxins in Food and Feed (CODEX STAN 193-1995).

A decision to use the default ML for total arsenic would have been problematic for some unrefined omega-3 oils because they can contain high amounts of organic arsenic, which is considered to be of low toxicity. This change should also help to facilitate a global limit for arsenic based on the inorganic content, which has been a barrier to import of certain omega-3 oils in countries such as China that previously specified a total arsenic limit.

Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS)

The CCFO has informed CCFICS of its concerns regarding the authenticity of different oils and that consideration be given to this in their work on food authenticity/integrity.3 Should the work of CCFICS be expanded to include fish oils, minimally, GOED will monitor the situation, but will most likely participate to share data and work to ensure authenticity is assessed accurately.