Retailers, suppliers sued over fishy supplement standards

Michael Johnsen

The Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation and the founders of—a Web site dedicated to exposing the contamination of fish from such toxins as polychlorinated biphenyl compounds—last month targeted a host of retailers and their supplement suppliers—including CVS/pharmacy, Rite Aid, Pharmavite and specialty supplier Now Foods—in a California lawsuit. The plaintiffs alleged the defendants failed to warn residents of the potential exposure to PCBs in the fish oils they sold, as mandated by California Proposition 65.

The concern that this event will impact sales of fish oils remains slight, one supplement manufacturer maintained. For the three weeks following the filing of the lawsuit, sales of fish oils were still on a traditional upward trajectory.

“Though the [plaintiffs] suggest that the levels of PCBs found in these products far exceed what is acceptable by Proposition 65 standards, the actual levels of PCBs found in the majority of these products do not appear to exceed the Proposition 65 limit [0.09 parts per million per day],” stated Andrew Shao, SVP scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association representing the dietary supplement industry.

CRN believes the suit was filed in California in order to take advantage of Proposition 65, which has conservative standards as compared with the rest of the nation. “Furthermore, [the plaintiffs] fail to mention that the Food and Drug Administration’s tolerance level for PCBs in fish—2 parts per million—far exceeds the levels of PCBs found in fish oil.”

In the test results released by the plaintiffs, none of their results exceeded PCB levels of 0.9 parts per million per day. “It appears that the group performed one test on a single sample from a single bottle of [each] product,” Pharmavite countered in a press release.

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