What is GOED?
OmegaMatters: Episode 18
Hosts: Drs. Bill Harris & Kristina Harris Jackson
Guest: Ellen Schutt
Background and Key Takeaways:
Ellen Schutt is the Executive Director of GOED, which is the global organization for EPA and DHA omega-3s. She’s been there for 10 years and oversees all aspects of the organization’s mission, which is to increase consumption of EPA/DHA in the general public and ensure that all GOED members are providing EPA/DHA products that are high quality, so consumers can trust them. Ellen has more than 20 years of experience in the natural products industry, so she has a wide range of interests and expertise beyond omega-3s. In this episode, Drs. Harris and Jackson talk about what it takes to meet the high standards of being a GOED member, as well as a new clinical studies database, in which they’ve compiled all human studies on EPA and DHA and cataloged them and created a searchable database.
Visit www.omegaquant.com/omegamatters-broadcasts/ to learn more.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Welcome to Omega Matters. I’m Kristina, and this is Bill, and we are here with Ellen Schutt, the Executive Director of GOED, which is the global organization for EPA and DHA omega-3s. She’s been there for 10 years and oversees all aspects of the organization’s mission, which is to increase consumption of EPA/DHA in the general public and ensure that all GOED members are providing EPA/DHA products that are high quality, so consumers can trust them. Ellen also spent 20 years in the natural products industry, so she has a wide range of interests and expertise beyond Omega-3s. So thanks for coming on today, Ellen.
Ellen Schutt: Thank you so much for inviting me.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Yes. So we wanted to kind of start off, just kind of talking about what GOED is. Who are your members? Give us the overview.
Ellen Schutt: Well, right, as you said, it’s the global organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s. We’ve been in existence about 16 years, and we have members throughout the Omega-3 supply chain. So we have 160 members approximately around the world, and it’s really from the very beginning of the process— from fishing companies in Peru who are harvesting anchovy and turning this into crude oil through to the customers, who are refining and concentrating oils that then go into dietary supplements. We also have a few seafood companies. And we have one pharmaceutical company. So we really care about EPA and DHA, the nutrients. So we’re not concerned about whether you’re going to eat more seafood, or take extra supplements, or take a pharmaceutical product.Our goal is really to increase consumption of EPA and DHA around the world. And I know you know as well as I do, that there’s few people in the world that gets enough EPA and DHA on a regular basis.
Dr. Bill Harris: Except the Koreans maybe and Japanese.
Ellen Schutt: And some Norwegians, maybe.
Dr. Bill Harris: Some Norwegians. Older Norwegians. And older Japanese, not the kids.
Ellen Schutt: Right, right, right.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: We are always talking about science and the results of different studies. And you are deeply on the side of, how do we actually get EPA and DHA into our hands, into our mouths. How big is the Omega-3 market, the industry? From supplements, to aquaculture, to the fisheries? Do you have any statistics about how big this industry is?
Ellen Schutt: I do. Every year we publish an ingredient market report that looks at the raw materials sector of the supply chain. And at that level, where is the oil that is going — whether it’s pharmaceuticals, or infant formula, or pet food, or a supplement. It’s a $1.4 billion industry. So, that’s including krill that goes into the Korean market. Or it’s including the anchovy oil that goes into a mass market brand of- of dietary supplements. Or the high concentrates that go into pharmaceuticals. That’s all included in that number.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Okay.
Dr. Bill Harris: Can you walk our viewers through the process of what happens from beginning to end. How do we get the oil in pills out of fish, for example?
Ellen Schutt: Sure. So most people don’t know that the majority of dietary supplements come from anchovy oil. And the vast majority of anchovy oil comes from the Peruvian anchovy fishery, which is the largest fishery in the world. The anchovy fishery has two fishing seasons. And every year the government sends out a scientific vessel that does a sonar survey of the biomass of anchovy and says, “Okay, here’s what we think the biomass is. As a result of the biomass being this big, your quota is this big, and you can, you can harvest this much anchovy in this period. And if there’s too many juveniles in your catch, we’re gonna close it down.” So, the want to make sure this is a well managed fishery that is sustainable for the long-term. I mean, this is the livelihood of many of these fishermen in Peru.
So then from there, the fish is harvested. The anchovy oil is squeezed out of the fish. The rest of it is a protein that goes for fish meal, for the aquaculture industry, or for animal feed in general. And then from there, that would be called the crude oil. From there, it’s cleaned up to make it fit for human consumption. The contaminants are removed and it becomes a refined oil product. And that would be what’s considered an entry level product on a store shelf — what used to be called an 18/12 oil. And that’s really about 30% of EPA and DHA in one gram, a one gram pill or a one gram serving size.
Dr. Bill Harris: How much of that crude that comes off of the first squeeze in Peru goes to supplements versus maybe drugs versus agriculture?
Ellen Schutt: I don’t know the exact number. It depends a lot. So it varies from year to year, and of course the harvest varies from year to year in terms of how much they catch. But it also varies in terms of the yield of EPA and DHA per anchovy. I mean the reason anchovies are the main fish, is just because they have a high EPA and DHA content, compared to something like salmon, for example. But it could vary, the percentage could vary. And so that crude oil needs to be, for pharmaceuticals for example, needs to be concentrated up, and up, and up to get to a 90% EPA and DHA level.You know, most of the time, coming out of the fish, it’s less than 30%. So there’s a lot of technology that needs to be done to get it all the way to something that is a concentration fit for a pharmaceutical product.
Dr. Bill Harris: Mm-hmm.
Ellen Schutt: It’s not a question of quality. You know, an 18/12 or an entry level product is as high quality as a higher concentrate product. It’s just a matter of getting more EPA and DHA in one pill or in a smaller serving size. So that’s what the big difference is.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Bill Harris: But there, I guess, part of the question was that a certain amount of fish oil goes to people. Certain amount of fish oil goes to feed fish. Is it 50/50, 10/90?
Ellen Schutt: Right. Don’t quote me on this, because I think it changes. I think it’s between 50%-70% is going to what they call human consumption, which is supplements and pharmaceuticals. And the rest is going to fish feed. But there’s a lot of demand from the fish feed industry too. So it really is a balance, from- from one year to the text.
Dr. Bill Harris: Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: And on the fish feed side, is algae oil becoming a bigger part of their feed? Or do you guys have partners who are algae oil producers?
Ellen Schutt: So we’re not tracking that aquaculture industry or the fish feed industry, but the answer is yes. Algae is definitely of interest to that industry. We’re about EPA and DHA. So if you’re an algal supplier, anchovy, salmon, tuna, krill — they’re all part of us. So algae is becoming a bigger part of the market. And of course, plant based diets are of interest to everybody these days. The challenge has been that algae oil is a lot more expensive than fish oil. But this year, for example, anchovy oil is expensive. So the divide is closer between the two is closer. There’s more algae suppliers now, but for a while there was really just one algae supplier. Now there are a lot more algae companies that have come on stream with capacity. So that is making the market a lot more broad and easy access a supplement company who’s looking for an algae oil source.
Dr. Bill Harris: Interesting.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: So we have an algae factory just south of us in Nebraska, middle of the prairies.
Ellen Schutt: I think I know what company that is. Yes.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Don’t have to be by the ocean, so…
Ellen Schutt: Right, and that’s the interesting thing about algae is that it could either be open pond, or it could be fermentation. So it doesn’t mater where you are. And really, it’s infinitely scalable, because you know, I guess you have to deal with whatever land use you need, but you know, there’s a limited number of fish in the sea. So it’s just a different conversation.
Dr. Bill Harris: Yeah. So do you have some members who are growing GMO-based Omega-3?
Ellen Schutt: Camelina?
Dr. Bill Harris: Yes, Camelina.
Ellen Schutt: Well, Camelina, we have one member that is growing a GMO canola that expresses EPA and DHA. And I know there’s research going on with Camelina oil. They’re not part of our membership, but I think those are the true plant-based oils that have gotten the furthest along. I mean, you know, the company who does the GMO canola, has done a lot of research about consumer acceptance. And, I think they have more hurdles in Europe than they do in the US with the whole GMO conversation. But you know, we say all the time, there’s not enough fish — if we are successful in getting people to take as much EPA and DHA as they really need, there’s not enough fish. So there needs to be other options. So I think that algae and GMO plants are, you know, at some point, the future.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Those GMO plants would be used mostly for fish feed? Or would they actually be able to extract into supplements?
Ellen Schutt: They’re doing both.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Okay. Interesting. Wow.
Ellen Schutt: Yeah.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: What are some of the other challenges that the industry is facing when it comes to increasing Omega-3 intake in the population?
Ellen Schutt: I think it’s just consumer apathy. Either people think they’re eating enough fish, and they’re not. Or they, you know, they want to take a supplement that gives them an immediate benefit that they can feel. And that doesn’t happen. You know, I was at a conference last week and had a conversation with someone who said, “Okay, if I take Omega-3s, what am I gonna feel in two weeks?” And I said, “Nothing.” But, you know, in 40 years, you might not die. So I mean, the challenge is that…
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: It’s a tough sell.
Ellen Schutt: That instant gratification is a big part of it. And then you know, we hear that, that it’s getting into the habit. It’s remembering to take it, which is true with all supplements. It’s remembering to take it every day, you know? Brush your teeth, take your supplements. Or you know, you try and have those reminders, the connections. But Europe, for example, is just less of a supplement culture. So, I mean, we’re trying to do what we can to educate consumers about the benefits and about the fact that they’re not getting enough. But it’s a big world. I mean, it’s really small conversations, and you convert one person at a time, I guess.
Dr. Bill Harris: Right, right. Well next time somebody asks you that, tell them that their knees, and their elbows, and their joints are gonna feel better.
Ellen Schutt: Okay. All right.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Yeah, the two, like short-term benefits that I feel are usually related to dry eye and eventually knee joints. You do have to take enough to get that, though.
Ellen Schutt: Right.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: And that’s usually over a gram-and-a-half or two grams.
Ellen Schutt: Well, I think that’s the other obstacle —that nobody knows how much they should be taking. The main reason someone starts taking an Omega-3 is because a health practitioner recommended it. But a health practitioner says, “Take one pill.” They don’t say, “Take X amount of EPA and DHA.” You know, they’re not, they’re not giving good advice. And you’re right, you know, for blood pressure, maybe, you need two grams. Or for a true rheumatoid arthritis, for example. You know, dry eye. What do you need?
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Right.
Ellen Schutt: One pill is not enough, so I mean, I think that the dosage conversation is just a really challenging one to educate consumers about.
Dr. Bill Harris: Right, right.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Yes, it is.
Dr. Bill Harris: Years ago, there was a big concern about fish oil coming from China. And I remember seeing this big spread in the newspaper, of all these drawings, of fish oil coming originally from Peru, shipped over to China in a barrel, put in capsules, and sent back to the United States. And people were concerned about the quality of all that. Is that an issues that’s come and gone?
Ellen Schutt: Kind of. So not just picking on China. You need to take care of the oil throughout the whole supply chain. I mean, it oxidizes very easily. You have to protect it from air, protect it from light. So, the oil can be in a nice, tight drum. But then if you’re going to make it into soft tails, you can’t, you know, pour the drum into another drum. You need nitrogen blanketing, or you need a way to make sure the oil is protected throughout the whole process. And I think that it has gotten a lot better. We’ve tested the top 50 products in the US on the mass market and also in the natural channel. And they’re all clean, in terms of contaminants, and heavy metals, and all of that. But you know, oxidation remains a challenge, because you really have to take care of the oil throughout the process. I think China is harder as a country, just because it’s not very transparent, especially now. So I think that just leads to suspicion. There needs to be transparency throughout the process, and people need to understand how the oil is processed, and where it’s coming from. And what’s the country of origin? Is it Peru? Is it China? Is it the US? If I package it in the US, do I say that’s my country of origin? There’s a lot of label issues that I think could be cleaned up, that we’ll see, if we ever succeed at doing all of that.
Dr. Bill Harris: The contaminants issues have been taken care of. They’re cleaned up. You don’t get mercury from fish oil capsules.
Ellen Schutt: Right. Exactly. They really are. I mentioned the whole refining process, you know? That’s what it’s doing. It taking out all of the heavy metals and the contaminants. However, my regulatory person would want me to say, like there’s no such thing as zero. But you know, it’s below detectable levels. There really is no issue. There’s plenty of other things to worry about in the world, but fish oils being contaminated is just not one of them.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: That’s a good line. I often get asked about like, what certifications should you look for in a supplement? They’re wanting to know whether they’ve been third party tested after to know that you’re actually getting the amount that you’re buying. Do you have any advice on that, any resources to point to?
Ellen Schutt: There are third party tests that are looking at different things. So if you want to talk about a sustainability standard, there’s, you know, Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC. There’s USP, or United States Pharmacopeia. There’s a few different standards, but they’re not necessarily comparing apples to apples. I think having a third party standard is a good idea. But that doesn’t mean, if you don’t have that, that you’re not making a quality product.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Right.
Ellen Schutt: And I think that goes back to asking some questions of your supplier. Even labels these days are starting to have a lot of batch information. Like, I know, in some cases, you can see that the ship that this was harvested on off the coast of Peru and there’s more traceability now if a consumer is really motivated to understand all of that. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be a third party doing that. It’s the manufacturer sharing information with you.
Dr. Bill Harris: Yeah.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Yeah.
Dr. Bill Harris: Is the growth of Omega-3 different around the world? Are there some countries where it’s going gangbusters? Talk about that.
Ellen Schutt: Yeah. If you take COVID out of the picture for the moment, the main growth in the past several years, or the recent past, has been in Asia and emerging markets in general. So, the US and Europe areflat or growing a little bit. And the emerging markets in Asia are growing, you know, some in double digits, some high single digits. But they’re growing from a much smaller base. So, COVID kind of turned everything on its head, as it did for so many. But in 2020, you know, the Omega-3 industry had a good year, a very good year. Not because it was necessarily an immune product, but because we had the whole health halo of, “Oh, I better take all the supplements I can to stay healthy.”
It was more of a rollercoaster year. In Spring 2020 everybody bought everything. And then it kind of went back and forth, I think. And I think the year ended up being a little bit up. But then in 2021, it was still a really good year, and our members say they weren’t sure what was going to happen. If people stockpile in 2020, are they still taking it in 2021? So, the past two years have been very good. The demand right now is very strong. There’s plenty of our members that are adding capacity, and the customers are asking for more than the suppliers can supply. Which is a good problem to have, but you know, it’s a frustrating problem to have. I would say that the short term challenge is what’s going on throughout the entire supplement supply chain and really the world, is just the supply chain issues. You know, you can’t get your raw materials quickly. [The shipping costs are, someone told me, like 10 times what they normally are. People are shipping things air freight, because it’s taking too long to ship them on an ocean liner. And it’s not just one company. You can’t get all the parts to put your product together. So that’s, I mean, that’s everywhere. At an executive conference last week, they said, “Long term forecast is great, next 12 to 18 months are gonna be rough.” Like, we’re in the middle of this perfect storm of COVID, and supply chain issues, and labor issues. You know, people can’t find workers. So there’s a lot of bad things going on right now. But you know, I’m a positive person. We still remain optimistic about the long-term future of Omega-3s.
Dr. Bill Harris: Great.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Awesome. Yeah, we know all about that. So it’s not a surprise that’s happening.
Ellen Schutt: It’s frustrating. And it’s frustrating as a consumer too, right?
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Yeah.
Ellen Schutt: Like how expensive it is to go to the grocery store.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Right. It’s not great. Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about the clinical studies database.
Ellen Schutt: Okay.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: ‘Cause this is really cool. We really are excited about it, because it’s a database that was put together by GOED to bring together all of the Omega-3 studies, as many as they could find. And basically allow them to be sortable, and you just have them all together in one place. So if you have a question related to Omega-3s and what studies have been done on pregnancy or arthritis, you have all the information in the database, and it’s easily searchable. Much, much clearer information than if you just Google it. So can you talk a little bit more about that project and why you did it.
Ellen Schutt: You did a really good job describing it. Thank you. This is what we call a labor of love. This is five or six years in the making. if we started this now, I don’t know if we would have done it. You know, it was just an amazing amount of work and money. But, you’re right, that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ve taken all human studies on EPA and DHA and cataloged them and created a searchable database. Where, like you said, you can search for pregnancy, you can search by outcome. But you can also search for what it shows for doses of 500 milligrams compared to 1000 milligrams. So you can look for dosage. You can look for men versus women. You can look for just the type of study it was. Or the year it was published. There’s some conversation about year of publication and what that means for outcomes.
So all of this is housed in one database, and it really is an amazing tool for somebody who wants to understand the gaps in science. Understand what the science says. Or if I put on my marketing hat, how can I use this to substantiate a marketing claim? Or, a health claim petition or something like that. Actually, we were having this conversation, because GOED, GOED filed a health claim petition, maybe six years ago for Omega-3s and blood pressure. And we did a meta analysis that had 70 studies in it. And we were looking at the Excel spreadsheet that we created six years ago to be able to track all those studies. If we had our clinical study database, we could have done it with this database at our fingertips. So it’s just a time saver for if you’re doing a systematic review. I mean, you’re science people I’m talking to. So any kind of starting point for any scientific research, I just think it’s an amazing tool.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Yeah.
Dr. Bill Harris: Is it getting used in the industry as well?
Ellen Schutt: It’s not getting used as much as would like. We were talking about this earlier today. Some of our members have access to it as part of their membership, and then it’s available on a subscription basis to others. I think the challenge is it’s a complicated tool. So you really have to understand what you’re trying to do and how it all works. So you have to dig in and really understand how you can use it. So I think this is very early stage for us. We’re about to release a report that we have prepared, so that someone can see what you could have if you want to know everything there is to know about arteriosclerosis. And I think once we have that kind of information, and we’re recording some case studies, I think it will help people to better visualize how they could use this in their own business.
Dr. Bill Harris: Can people just hire and say, “I want to the know the relationship between Omega-3 and this.”
Ellen Schutt: Yes.
Dr. Bill Harris: Tell me how?
Ellen Schutt: They can. My personal feeling is that we’re gonna end up having more of those conversations, rather than someone licensing the entire database. Because then you don’t have to understand everything. And the woman who’s in charge of our database has a PhD in Omega-3. So if you go to her and say, “I want to know about Omega-3s and blood pressure.” She’s going to ask you 10 other questions to make sure that you’re really getting the answer that you want. We’re not just gonna spit out something and say, “Here you go.” There’s going to be a dedicated project.
Dr. Bill Harris: Great.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Yeah. That’s great. Well, we are probably close to our time. Do we have any last questions or things to talk about?
Ellen Schutt: I think my takeaway message is the future of Omega-3s is bright. Just hang in there for one more year. And, the science still continues to grow, and that is really exciting. We’re obviously trying to stay on top of everything new, in addition to everything we’ve already cataloged. So, I think we’re very excited about where we are right now.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Good.
Dr. Bill Harris: Great.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: Well, thank you so much for the work you’re doing, and thanks for talking to us about GOED today.
Ellen Schutt: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It was fun.
Dr. Kristina Harris Jackson: All right, thanks.
Dr. Bill Harris: Until next time.
Ellen Schutt: All right, take care.