‘Unsatisfactory results’: Hong Kong authorities order vendors to stop sale of five fish oil supplements

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety has ordered vendors to stop the sale of five fish oil supplements in the past few weeks. ©Getty Images
Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety has ordered vendors to stop the sale of five fish oil supplements in the past few weeks. ©Getty Images

Related tags Hong kong Consumer Council Fish oil supplements

Hong Kong’s food safety authority, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS), has ordered vendors to stop the sale of five fish oil supplements.

This follows a recent market surveillance conducted by the Hong Kong Consumer Council on 25 fish oil products sold in the market.

The results were submitted to the CFS which in turn conducted its own test, where five products from the US, Japan, and Canada were found to either 1) contain excessive preservatives or genotoxic carcinogen or 2) detected with docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and vitamin D levels that were not consistent with the product labelling.

These products are namely Life Nutrition’s Baby DHA + D3 Complete from the US, Nutronic’s Pregnancy Omega-3 and Adrien Gagnon’s Omega-3 500mg from Canada, and Pregnant Women DHA and Children’s DHA from 日本阪聖.

“The Centre for Food Safety of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has followed up the Consumer Council's testing results and collected samples of the fish oil supplement products.

“The test results of two products were unsatisfactory due to excessive butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and benzo(a)pyrene.

“The test results of three other products were detected with discrepancies of docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and vitamin D contents,” ​a spokesman from CFS said in response to queries from NutraIngredients-Asia.

These products were found to be sold in retail outlets across Tsim Sha Tsui, Causeway Bay, Jordan, as well as the districts of Wan Chai and Mong Kok. 

The spokesman said the CFS had since taken follow-up actions, including tracing the sources of the products concerned and instructing the vendors to stop selling the affected batches of the products.

The Hong Kong Consumer Council published a report last month detailing the findings of their fish oil products testing on its monthly Chinese-language CHOICE Magazine, which features reports on product tests, surveys, studies, as well as complaint cases.

Why the test?

A test was conducted on fish oil omega-3 partly due to public interest, the Consumer Council said.

Aside from the US, Canada, and Japan, the 25 products tested were from Australia, China, Malaysia, Norway, and one was of unknown provenance.

“The selection of food test subjects goes through a stringent process, which first includes formulation of ideas based on public interest which the Council gathered from readers’ suggestions as well as discussions on social media, followed by in-depth discussion, approval and ongoing monitoring process by the Council’s Research and Testing Committee, whose members come from different sectors of society and are experts in their respective industry,” ​a council representative told us.

The other factors taken into consideration include the consumption frequency, volume, the level of popularity among consumers, availability, discoveries in international academic journals, clinical findings, consumer complaints, safety issues reported in the news, and changes in the relevant test standards etc.

The representative added that the testes were conducted by accredited laboratories using “appropriate methods”.

For instance, the fatty acid profile, 3-MCPD, and glycidol contents were determined by methods of the German Society for Fat Science (GDF).

“Fish oil and fish liver oil have been promoted as health supplements for a long time as they are a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Their popularity has increased as consumers have become more health conscious.

“While consumers consume fish oil supplements with the aim to improve health, ongoing and long-term consumption may result in accumulated and hidden impacts.

“As such, the Consumer Council conducted a test project to assess relevant parameters of fish oil supplement products on the market,”​ said the council representative.

Findings from HKCC

One of the key findings from the HKCC was that all samples were detected with contaminants.

For example, 24 samples were detected with the contaminant 3-MCPD. Of which, three were detected with 3-MCPD that exceeded the upper limit of the EU standard.

Fourteen samples were detected with the genotoxic carcinogen glycidol, of which, one sample had detected levels of glycidol and 3-MCPD which both exceeded the EU’s upper limit.

The same sample’s detected levels of the antioxidant and preservative BHT also exceeded the requirements of the Hong Kong regulations.

Another issue detected is also the discrepancy between the actual and labelled DHA content.

For example, the sample with the greatest discrepancy claimed to have a DHA content of 60.6g on its nutrition label, but test results showed that it only contained 10.3g DHA, which was 83 per cent lower than the labelled value.

Another sample of the same brand had DHA levels which was 73.2 per cent lower than the labelled value.  

One product was reported to contain 66 per cent less EPA than stated on the label.

GOED’s response

In response to the findings, the Global Organisation for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) pointed out that because various contaminants are not regulated in Hong Kong, omega-3 products cannot be expected to meet quality requirements that do not exist or are not applicable in Hong Kong. 

"GOED would like to note that it is commendable that the HKCC has measured a number of contaminants in order to detect omega-3 dietary supplements that may not be of good quality.

"However, many contaminants are not regulated in Hong Kong, and omega-3 products cannot be expected to meet quality requirements that do not exist or are not applicable in Hong Kong today.

"Nevertheless, if the maximum limits of the European Commission (EC) are taken into account, and which were taken as reference for the HKCC report, then four of the 25 products could be deemed out of compliance with at least one contaminant limit, while 21 products (84 per cent) were in full compliance."

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