Omega-3 group ejected from SupplySideEast
By Shane Starling in Secaucus, New Jersey, 28-Apr-2010
“Fishoilsafety.com, the group mounting a controversial legal action against eight omega-3 supplement manufacturers and retailers in California over trace PCB levels, was turfed out of the SupplySideEast trade event soon after the show floor opened yesterday.
Show producer Virgo Publishing LLC closed down Fishoilsafety’s $4100 booth at the Meadowlands exhibition center in Secaucus, New Jersey, after determining it was inappropriately promoting its legal action.
“We removed this group from our private event because it is not appropriate to use this business-to-business forum for this purpose,” said Jenny Bolton, president and CEO of Virgo Publishing.
“As a privately owned and operated event, we have the authority to determine if a display or exhibitor is inappropriate.”
The presence of Fishoilsafety at the event always had flash-point potential given the vehement criticism it has received from the omega-3 and wider supplements industry, including omega-3 suppliers who were themselves exhibiting or attending the show.
Fishoilsafety co-founder Chris Manthey maintains his group is motivated by public safety but it has been widely derided for seeking to exploit loopholes in California’s proposition 65 law relating to contaminants, by targeting predominantly cod liver oil products that tested above Prop 65 PCB levels, but which are not representative of the broader industry.
Prop 65 states that products containing PCBs at levels that would contribute to consumption of 90ng/day, should carry cancer label warnings.
Within minutes of the show opening, several omega-3 suppliers had expressed their displeasure at the presence of Fishoilsafety – to Virgo staff, and to the group itself. Within 90 minutes the booth was emptied and its staff escorted from the premises by security officials.
The severity of the action matches the sentiment of an industry angry at being targeted over PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl), when the contaminants are present without recorded safety concern at trace levels in almost all food items from butter to meat to other supplements, and even products like toys.
New York-based food attorney Marc Ullman backed Virgo’s decision to evict Fishoilsafety, a group he described as “bounty hunters”.
“I don’t blame Virgo at all for shutting these guys down,” he said.
“They are a bunch of bounty hunters who have sued any number of omega-3 companies in the US, including many here at the show. They have set the booth up with some pretty strong messaging about the dangers of fish oil but not for educational purposes.
Rather they are trying to intimidate some of the people that they have commenced litigation against into settling with them by virtue of the fact that they are hurting their businesses at this show. I wouldn’t have allowed them in the hall to start out with.”
Manthey claims he was threatened physically by one disgruntled attendee but said others expressed their support for his group’s actions.
Others spoken to by this publication said Fishoilsafety’s presence at the show was a media stunt intended to draw attention to the San Francisco court action that seeks $2500 in damages for each day consumers may have been exposed to the products in question, among relabeling and other measures.
On Monday, Manthey met with Adam Ismail, the executive director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), a meeting Manthey described as yielding, “positive results”.
“I don’t doubt most GOED members are within the limits but why is there not more transparency with regard to PCB levels?” he said, adding that legal representatives for his group and defendants were in discussion, and that an out-of-court settlement was likely.
Companies named in the suit are Solgar, Pharmavite, Now Foods, Omega Protein, TwinLab Corp, General Nutrition Corp, Rite Aid, and CVS Caremark.
The Fishoilsafety.com website states that it was conceived, “as a tool for consumers to become informed and to ask industry and regulators to provide meaningful and accurate information about the levels of these contaminants [PCBs] in fish products.”