USDA approves Nufarm/Nuseed's plant-based long-chain omega-3; FDA approval still to follow

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / S847
© Getty Images / S847
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has given official sanction to Nuseed’s proprietary omega-3 canola for cultivation in the United States, bringing plant-derived long-chain omega-3s a step closer to the market.

The authorization for Nuseed, a subsidiary of Australia’s Nufarm Limited, follows a similar authorization from Australian authorities earlier this year for cultivation, food and feed.

“USDA approval represents another very significant milestone in the development and commercialization of this important new product,”​ said Greg Hunt, Nufarm Managing Director and CEO.

“It further validates the safety and quality of the product and the regulatory progress being made in multiple jurisdictions.”

The USDA deregulation marks a critical step toward global regulatory approval of canola containing the long-chain omega-3s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid, C20:5 n-3) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, C22:6 n-3). Before the oil can be used in food and feed applications, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must finish processing Nuseed’s submission. FDA regulatory approval is anticipated prior to the 2019 US cropping season, according to the company.


The main omega-3 fatty acids present on the market consist of the marine-sourced EPA and DHA as well as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3 n-3) from plants like flax and chia.

Omega-3s are not created equal, however, and different fatty acids have been associated with different benefits.

Much attention has been paid to the conversion of ALA to the longer chain EPA, with many experts pegging this conversion at as low as 3% to as much as 20% for vegetarians. The proportion of ALA converted to DHA is very small.

Cardiovascular health

Canola © Getty Images weiXx
Nuseed developed the omega-3 canola oil in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). Image © Getty Images / weiXx

The strongest and most established body of science for the marine omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) is in relation to cardiovascular health, reported in the early 1970s by Dr Jorn Dyerberg and his co-workers in The Lancet​ and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

To date, EPA and DHA have been linked to improvements in blood lipid levels, a reduced tendency of thrombosis, blood pressure and heart rate improvements, and improved vascular function. Beyond heart health, numerous compelling studies support the fatty acids for cognitive function, mood and behavior, eye health, joint health, maternal and infant development, and sports nutrition​.

The combination of rapidly expanding market need and an “unexpandable” market of fish oil has led to a great opportunity for other sources. Alternatives already in the market place include krill, algae, and even copepods​. But it’s the potential to source omega-3 oils from plants that is exciting some very big players.

Pre-commercial trials

Nuseed successfully planted 15,000 acres of its omega-3 canola in Montana under USDA notification this year. The company is currently harvesting that crop, and the oil produced will be used in ongoing pre-commercial trials in key markets, said the company.

The omega-3 oil will initially be commercialized for aquaculture feed uses and branded as Aquaterra. Human nutrition applications will follow under the brand name Nutriterra.

First to market

Nuseed looks certain to be first to market with their omega-3 oil, ahead of other players including Cargill (working with BASF), which is on track to bring canola engineered to contain higher levels of EPA and DHA to market sometime after 2020.

In Europe, Britain’s Rothamsted Research is working with camelina, one of Europe’s oldest oil seed crops. The UK team, led by Prof Johnathan Napier, omega-3 Camelina programme leader at Rothamsted Research, published results of field trials in Nature’s Scientific Reports​ last year, which confirmed the promise of the teams’ approach.

For more information about the use of GM technology for omega-3 production, please click HERE​.

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