Is Your Brand of Fish Oil Really Safe?

An American Fork-based nutritional supplements maker is among eight companies targeted by a California environmental group over their alleged failure to warn consumers that 10 of their fish oil supplements contain toxic chemicals that can cause cancer and birth defects.

Twinlab Corp., which has 320 workers in American Fork, was accused in a lawsuit filed Tuesday by Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation and two environmentalists of misleading consumers about the levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in two of their fish oil supplements, Twinlab’s Norwegian Cod Liver Oil and Emulsified Norwegian Cod Liver Oil.

Even though these two Twinlab supplements claim they are “PCB and heavy metal free,” they allegedly contain PCBs above the “safe harbor” limits set for human consumption under California’s Proposition 65, which requires consumers to be warned about exposure to toxic chemicals, according to the San Francisco Superior Court suit.

The two Twinlab supplements are sold online at, said Justin Boone, spokesman for the company. But he wasn’t able to specify on Wednesday which retailers in Utah carry the two products. The company’s Web site shows its supplements are available through retailers including Wal-Mart, Target, Sam’s Club, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Walgreens, Vitamin World, Vitamin Shoppe, Rite Aid and GNC.

In addition to Twinlab, the suit names seven retailers and manufacturers of fish oil, shark oil, fish liver oil and shark liver oil supplements. They include: CVS Pharmacy Inc.; General Nutrition Corp.; Now Health Group Inc.; Omega Protein Inc.; Pharmavite LLC (which sells fish oils under the Nature Made brand); Rite Aid Corp.; and Solgar Inc.

What makes the defendants’ marketing claims egregious is that the 10 fish oil supplements, which are recommended to pregnant women and children for their health benefits, are marketed as being already treated for PCB contamination when the problem still exists, said Benson Chiles, an environmentalist that brought the lawsuit.

Christopher Manthey, another plaintiff, said he and Chiles found in their investigation that the supplements industry “seems very aware that fish oils can be high in PCBs.”

“That’s why many of them say their supplements have been ‘treated’ to remove or reduce PCBs,” he said. “But since they don’t say how much PCB contamination is still left, even consumers who choose ‘treated’ supplements can’t know what PCB levels they’re swallowing along with their daily Omega-3.”

Twinlab, in a statement Wednesday, said it cannot comment on the validity or accuracy of the plaintiffs’ test results, but said its supplements meet stringent government standards and are “molecularly distilled and tested for purity.”

Greg Grochoski, Twinlab’s chief science officer, notes that among the 10 supplements tested, its products were reported as having some of the lowest levels of impurities.

The company also said it has been working with Mateel for several months to develop scientifically valid standards for impurities that can be found in fish oils. It said it uses fish oil suppliers that adhere to industry safety standards.

“This lawsuit is about plaintiffs seeking additional standards under California’s Prop. 65, a consumer disclosure law,” the Twinlab statement said.

David Roe, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said they are seeking civil penalties of up to $2,500 a day for each violation of the California Health and Safety Code.

“The amount of the penalty will depend on what their supplements sales are since Aug. 6, 2009 when we notified the California office of the Attorney General of this problem, and will continue every day until the PCBs are taken out of the products, or until warnings are given,” he said.

“We’re hoping that the suit will stimulate the industry as a whole to get PCBs out of fish oils,” Roe said.

The brand name supplements named in the lawsuit include:

1. Nature Made Cod Liver Oil

2. Nature Made Odorless Fish Oil

3. TwinLab Norwegian Cod Liver Oil

4. TwinLab Emulsified Norwegian Cod Liver Oil

5. Now Foods Shark Liver Oil

6. Now Foods Double Strength Cod Liver Oil

7. Now Foods Salmon Oil

8. Solgar 100% Pure Norwegian Shark Liver Oil Complex

9. Solgar Norwegian Cod Liver Oil

10. GNC Liquid Norwegian Cod Liver Oil


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Posted by on Mar 3rd, 2010 and filed under Nutrition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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