The UK Food Standards Agency has published the results of a survey of dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs in 33 branded fish oil supplements bought from UK retailers, and has withdrawn two batches from sale after they were found to contain unlawfully high levels of the cancer-causing chemicals.
Dioxins and PCBs are chemicals produced by industrial activity which are thought to cause cancer after long-term exposure. The FSA's survey looked at 33 products that contained a wide range of concentration of dioxins. The two products withdrawn contained levels of dioxins that, when taken at the recommended dosage of fish oil, would provide more than two times the Tolerable Daily Intake.
The products withdrawn from sale are Superdrug Pure Cod Liver Oil, sold in bottles of 300ml and with an expiry date of April 2003, and Holland & Barrett Pure Cod Liver Oil, in bottles of 250ml and expiring in August 2002.
Dr Jon Bell, the FSA's deputy chief executive and head of food safety, said: "While there have been measurable improvements in reducing dioxin levels in fish oil supplements, there is scope for additional action by the fish oil supplement industry to reduce levels still further.
"The Agency has initiated discussions with retailers and industry about ways to continue to reduce levels of potentially harmful dioxins in fish oil supplements."
Exposure to dioxins has decreased by 75 per cent over the past 20 years, the FSA said, and levels of dioxins and PCBs found in most of the samples taken in the survey were lower than in previous surveys carried out in 1994 and 1996.
This is good news for supplement makers, since new EU wide dioxin limits will come into force in the UK on 1 July 2002.
The FSA stressed that consumers should not avoid fish oils as a result of the survey, since the benefits of the product far outweighed the potential risks if taken in the right amounts.