Sourcing Omega 3 Sustainably: an Ethical Dilemma Resolved
When your doctor, your fitness coach, or your friend says you should boost your daily omega-3s, many people think “fish oil”. It’s a fact that many people aren’t getting enough healthy omega-3 fatty acids in their regular diets, especially many children and seniors. Partly this is because many people just don’t like eating oily fish like sardines, mackerel, and salmon. This is also due to the “yuck factor” of fishy breath and concerns about recognized heavy metal accumulation in wild and farmed fish. Yet omega-3s are critical for heart health, joint health, and skin health and… we almost forgot… brain health! They’re called “essential” fatty acids because our bodies cannot make them: they have to be eaten from omega-3 rich sources.
Fish oil can also be yucky for the environment!
But like with sausages, most people don’t realize what’s involved in actually making fish oil. It’s not like getting milk from cows or eggs from chickens. The whole fish has to be captured and killed. Even in the fish that are richest in omega-3s (anchovies, sardines), only about 1% of the weight of the fish converts to the fish oil you take in softgels. The by-product meal gets used in aquaculture, animal feeds, and industrial lubricants, so the fish was not wasted. And more responsible fish oil companies are sourcing from certified sustainable stocks, such as krill, wild Alaskan fish, or cold-water shrimp. But currently, most of the world’s oceans — and especially the dominant Peruvian anchovy and sardine fishery — are not able to supply the world’s projected omega-3 needs sustainably. Industry figures have shown global omega-3 EPA & DHA demand exceeding wild marine fish supply by the end of this decade.
People who consume fish oil may not be aware that a whole range of marine animals like sea lions, pelicans, and tuna rely on these same “forage fish” for their survival — even more than we humans do. Starving baby sea lions washing up on beaches all up and down the Pacific coasts of the Americas are in the news. While climate change affecting ocean temperatures, and thus where the forage fish are, plays a big role in their availability to near-shore animals, it cannot help that humans are taking the (sea) lion’s share. Large international ocean conservation groups have recently reported on the wholesale declines of ocean populations across the board. From just the 1970’s, our oceans have lost half of their marine life. That has to change or a key source of human and marine nutrition will be lost, and many other marine species will become endangered.
An ‘’all in” approach
Omega-3 industry opinion leaders have continued to call for an “all in” approach to supplying global omega-3 needs, including from algal and plant sources. Here’s why: the world’s omega-3 oil demand now exceeds 140,000 metric tons per year. About 90% of that comes from fish oil. So at only 1% oil conversion, that’s over 12 million tons of fish — just to supply fish oil for one year, primarily for humans and aquaculture feeds. Fishing quotas limiting allowable catches are set, but inevitably these are evaded in international waters or due to outright poaching. This is a problem. In the past few years, Peru, the dominant supplier of anchovy and sardines, has twice closed its fisheries due to plummeting forage fish counts. There simply weren’t enough countable fish to allow the season to occur.
This underscores the urgent need to shift to alternative omega-3 sources. Of course, plant-based sources alleviate this whole issue of unsustainable omega-3 nutrition.
A new solution
A new vegan omega-3 source you might not know about is now on the market. It’s called Ahiflower® oil. Ahiflower oil has been clinically-proven up to 4x stronger in omega-3 EPA conversion than flax seed oil. Grown by small independent farmers in the UK, Ahiflower oil also has beneficial GLA, recognized for its anti-inflammatory benefits, which neither flax nor fish oils contain. Ahiflower oil has a clean taste and aroma — thus no “fishy burps”, no “yuck factor”. And while a month’s supply of typical Peruvian fish oil takes about 60 fish out of the ocean, a month’s supply of Ahiflower oil only takes about 60 square feet of sustainably-managed, non-GMO Ahiflower seed crop to grow, year after year. Now that’s something to get a sea lion up and flapping!
Co-authored with Greg Cumberford, a 25+ year botanical natural products advocate, co-evolved wellness solutions developer, natural horseman, and runner.
Rena Cohen-First has sold in the Food Ingredient Industry for the past 17 years, selling to the largest food and beverage manufacturers in the world. She has taught online business and leadership classes as an adjunct instructor, studied Professional and Executive Coaching, completed her MBA and Served in the US Army. She resides in San Diego with her two children and husband.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on August 31, 2016.