The fish oil supply chain conundrum washes ashore
The backing science and health benefits of Omega 3 ingredients in the diets of dogs, horses, and poultry is undisputed. But as the world’s demand for wild marine Omega 3 sources rapidly outstrips sustainable supplies, mindfully innovative pet industry brands, co-manufacturers, and formulators have cast a wider net and have found an exciting botanical alternative. Ahiflower® (Buglossoides arvensis) oil has proven to match or exceed conventional fish (or flax) based Omega 3 oils and now, the introduction of milled Ahiflower seed products offer additional nutritional benefits including a unique calcium-rich mineral profile.
For nearly 15 years, Omega 3 lipid researchers have been warning that the Omega 3 fish oil industry’s capacity to meet rising global demand would be unsustainable. Now supply chain disruptions for fish oil related to rising ocean temperatures, falling Omega 3 content, and the Peruvian anchovy fishery closure have converged. Consequent increases in fish oil pricing and unreliable or declining fish oil supplies are widely acknowledged, including by the leading global EPA/DHA trade association (GOED). Its Managing Director, Ellen Schutt, has recently stated, “Even before the Peru season was cancelled, prices were at an all-time high and brands were being forced to pass along price increases to customers.” She observed further, “Oils that can guarantee stability of production and price (even if that price is higher than anchovy oils) will be considered attractive and be an important component to managing disruptions to supply.” GOED provided this info-graphic to put the overall 2022 Omega 3 EPA/DHA source volumes in perspective.
To put this supply crisis into context, in 2022 Peru produced 90,500 mt of fish oil, equating to approximately 30% of the global EPA and DHA supply. This was already a significant reduction from 2021 production of 155,000 mt. However, due largely to climatic factors, the entire production for 2023 currently stands at just 4,700 mt.
Higher-grade pharmaceutical concentrates (>25,000 mt/yr) and human fish oil uses (>65,000 mt/yr) necessarily compete against lower-priced pet and animal uses (~21,000 mt/yr). Premium-priced demand is driving raw fish meal and fish oil costs up by as much as 500% vs 2021. The fish oil doldrums are now causing real conundrums among product formulators and brands.
In the human nutrition markets, according to Grandview Research, a global $2.4B Omega 3 supplement market in 2022 is projected to expand at a 7.8% CAGR through 2030. Such impressive demand projections amidst recognized multi-year Omega 3 fish oil supply shortfalls will inevitably squeeze smaller and down-market ingredient users on price, availability, or both. Beyond market projections, the widespread values-driven increase in vegetarian and vegan lifestyles is also driving increased demand for plant-based alternatives to fish oil Omega 3 sources for humans and pets.
Against this backdrop of quite a feeding frenzy among traditional Omega 3 fish oil users, here’s a look at how some equine, canine, and poultry industry players got off the hook and embraced a regeneratively farmed, fully traceable, science-backed Omega 3-6-9 source. In each case Ahiflower’s oil or micronized seed format led to new thinking and provided product ‘unlocks’ which side-step today’s fish oil supply challenges.
Getting off the hook: equine, canine & poultry formulators use Ahiflower
Starting in the horse world, Omega 3 supplementation has long been recommended to improve skin and coat health, support immune and respiratory function, and recover better joint function and mobility after exercise. Even though horses are herbivores, fish oil is commonly fed to performance horses despite the inherent palatability and incompatibility challenges.
In early 2020, Dr. Mary Beth Gordon, Director of Equine Research and New Product Development at Purina Mills, learned about Ahiflower oil from an equine nutrition colleague in the UK where all Ahiflower crops are grown. At the time, Purina was looking for a more palatable Omega 3 supplemental source than fish or algal oils — but also one that will more efficiently form long-chain EPA and DHA than flaxseed oil can.
As Dr. Gordon relates, upon learning about Ahiflower oil and then carrying out equine trials in comparison to fish and flaxseed oils, “When we were doing our trials we put Ahiflower oil right up against flax oil since it’s the most readily available Omega 3 rich plant oil that people can buy at the feed store. We found that Ahiflower oil converts to EPA in the body, which would traditionally only be sourced from fish or algal oil. It’s the first plant oil we’ve ever seen that actually converts to EPA in the horse in appreciable amounts. We can measure Ahiflower’s EPA increases not only in the blood but in the muscle. We never thought that could happen because we’ve looked at studies with flaxseed oil and it didn’t look like much was going on. But with Ahiflower oil in horses, beneficial compounds like EPA are forming and contributing to overall health.”
Purina Mills has produced three Research Reviews on its website. These reports detail the findings around Ahiflower oil’s superior palatability versus fish oil and its capacity to match the natural balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids that accrue in horses’ blood and tissues from grazing on fresh pasture — hence their product’s name OmegaMatchTM Ahiflower oil.
In the canine world, several Omega 3 supplements already feature Ahiflower oil and leverage its uniquely high Omega 3 stearidonic acid (SDA) and omega-6 gamma linolenic acid (GLA) content. One new entrant (WagWell) launched by beauty entrepreneur CEO and Co-Founder William Smolen, features an Ahiflower + algal DHA blend in a liquid oil pump bottle and in chews — the first dog chew supplement containing Ahiflower+DHA oil on the market. The products appeal to dog owners seeking the health benefits of standard fish oil alongside Ahiflower oil’s rapidly attributable effects in dogs — healthier skin and shinier coat, better mobility and exercise recovery, improved immune and respiratory response.
Smolen noted, “At WagWell, our mission is to become the go-to, trusted source for a dog’s complete wellness routine. As we look to expand our product portfolio across multiple categories, our aim is to create intentional, value-driven necessities: if we cannot ensure a product will be as good or better than the market leader, then we will not make it. So when creating the WagWell supplement line, we explored a multitude of high-quality, plant and fish-based sources of Omega 3 widely favored by the pet industry. Ultimately, we were not satisfied with the results, finding that most options were either unable to meet our desired Omega 3 levels or required sourcing at a rate that did not positively contribute to sustainability efforts. In collaboration with our food science and nutrition team, we made the discovery of the plant-based, omega-rich Ahiflower, which quickly became the new ‘gold standard’ on our quest for an efficacious and sustainably harvested ingredient. Packed with omegas 3, 6 and 9, the Ahiflower DHA oil blend delivers on both quality and quantity, providing the nutritional value dogs need by means of a more health conscious and environmentally sound source.”
Smolen observed that CPG and beauty brands have spent decades educating consumers about the importance of ingredients and nutritional integrity in products. Especially among Gen-Z and Millennials who are choosing not to have children but instead adopt and care for dogs as their ‘children,’ the focus on access to premium supplements like WagWell’s offerings is quite high. Gen-Z and Millennials are the first generations to look at ingredients panels and details more discerningly in all of the products they buy. Smolen saw that they’ve been ingrained with everything they purchase to ‘assess, review, and research’. So of course it’s now happening with their pets. WagWell is catering to a demographic that now makes up >50% of pet ownership and where wellness is a core part of everyday life.
Also recognizing and capitalizing on this notable European and North American trend is LifePlus which has recently acquired the companion animal supplement brand and manufacturer PuraVet/HempVet. LifePlus is a legacy multi-level healthy lifestyles human supplement brand with strong sales growth in the UK and EU. One of its leading supplement products has been a salmon oil softgel. However, foreseeing the supply chain and price volatility that declining Peruvian anchovy supplies are knocking onto salmon oil supplies, LifePlus and PuraVet sought out Ahiflower as a functional, sustainable replacement oil.
PuraVet’s CEO Will Billings observed, “As a contract manufacturer and a premium companion animal supplement brand that has zero tolerance for adulterated fish oils — an unfortunate supply chain integrity challenge made only worse by tightening fish oil availability — I can’t overstate how much PuraVet appreciates Natures Crops for bringing Ahiflower oil and seed products to companion animal supplements and feed additives. The animal science for Ahiflower supports health maintenance outcomes in pets beyond those from salmon oil itself.” As noted in the Purina Research Reviews, these include lowered pro-inflammatory fibrinogen and ARA (arachidonic acid) expression, both of which improve an animal’s post-exercise response.
Dr. Gary Pusillo of INTI Services and a highly regarded international forensic veterinarian and animal nutrition consultant has seen the early stage warning signs grow into forceful calls to action. “During my professional career of almost 40 years, many ingredients have changed in their composition due to processing techniques, genetics, stability, adulteration, contamination, and bioavailability.
Fish oil has gone through dramatic changes in quality, nutrient profile, availability, heavy metal content, safety, stability, palatability, and pricing. In the almost 40 years since I first used fish oil, my confidence in fish oil labels and Certificates of Analysis has almost disappeared. While there are still quality fish oils available, their costs are astronomical. Availability of quality fish oils is dependent on an adequate reproduction rate of wild-caught fish and the investment in updated fishing, handling, processing, packaging, and distribution methods and equipment.”
He noted that, “Packaging materials have evolved from high-risk plastics containing such things as phthalates, bisphenols, and heavy metals; unfortunately, many foreign fish oils still come in high-risk packaging. Fish oil in long-term storage will slowly gain higher levels of phthalates, bisphenols, and similar chemicals. This process is accelerated by the storage environment and the composition of the fish oil. Almost all pet food and treat companies and fish oil suppliers do not test for these types of contaminants.”
He also observed, “During the fish oil handling and storage process, there is a possibility that important fatty acids such as DHA and EPA are denatured to an extent they cannot function as critical dietary Omega 3 fatty acids in animal diets. When fish oil is exposed to air, sunlight, and heat during storage, it can undergo dramatic changes to its nutrient profile, and concentration of detrimental molecules, molds, bacteria, and biogenic amines can occur. Ahiflower oil and micronized seed meal have been a highly consistent, traceable, efficacious, safe alternative to fish oil and fish meal without the odor and quality variation of fish oil and meals. Ahiflower oil and micronized seed have replaced fish oil and micronized seeds in all products I have control over. The future of great nutrition and safety has arrived because of Ahiflower oil.”
Led by recent university research in Ahiflower oil and in Ahiflower oil-containing seed by-products, the poultry world is starting to recognize complementary health and productivity benefits stemming from Ahiflower seed’s unique fatty acid profile and calcium carbonate content. In multiple peer-reviewed research journal publications from layer hen poultry trials at Penn State University, dietary Ahiflower oil achieved superior long-chain Omega 3 EPA and DPA gains in egg yolks and also in layer hen livers, breasts, and thighs vs hens fed flaxseed oil at isomolar Omega 3 intakes. This stems from Ahiflower oil’s richest Omega 3 SDA content (20%) on top of its high Omega 3 ALA content (42-45%). SDA by-passes the liver’s rate limiting enzymatic step in all mammals, converting biologically essential ALA onwards to longer-chain Omega 3 EPA and DHA substrates.
The Penn State researchers led by Prof Kevin Harvatine and Ahmed El-Zenary observed, “The amount of VLCn-3 FA [very long chain Omega 3 fatty acids] deposited in egg yolks was higher from hens fed AHI diets than those fed FLAX diets within dose, attributed to increased DHA, EPA, DPA, and eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA; 20:4 n-3), indicating increased conversion of SDA to its VLCn-3 FA derivatives… Egg yolk of hens fed AHI diets contained a higher ratio of VLCn-3 to total n-3 than those fed FLAX diets demonstrating that dietary SDA was efficiently absorbed, elongated and desaturated to VLCn-3, and deposited in egg yolk.” The authors also found that increasing the amounts of dietary ALA/SDA oils results in decreasing efficiency of VLCn-3 synthesis, pointing to improved commercial feed utilization efficiencies at lower feeding levels — ie more is not necessarily better.
In a very recently conducted layer hen poultry feeding trial (publication forthcoming) that compared Ahiflower micronized seed to conventional Omega 3 boosted poultry feed containing flaxseeds, researchers led by Prof Deborah Adewole at Dalhousie University investigated egg yolk PUFA content and eggshell strength effects. Because Ahiflower seed by-products contain exceptionally high calcium (10-14%) and silica (6-8%) levels naturally, they hypothesized that there could be complementary effects offsetting the need for as much typical calcium sources (oystershell, limestone grit) commonly used in commercial egg production while improving overall VLCn-3 content in the egg yolks.
Over a 12-week controlled feeding trial, the researchers found that feeding Ahiflower micronized seed at one quarter to half the oil content of typical flaxseed improves VLCn-3 PUFA in egg yolks, while significantly boosting hen bodyweight and hen day-egg productivity. Further, they found that all Ahiflower-fed cohorts maintained eggshell breaking strength vs control while the flax-fed cohort had reduced eggshell strength vs control. The higher calcium content of the Ahiflower micronized seed enabled replacing as much as 50% of the total oyster shell, shell mix and limestone grit content of the background feed.
Commenting on the potential commercial impact of these findings, Prof Adewole observed, “There are more than 1200 egg farms across Canada, housing an estimated 25 million laying hens who produce more than nine billion eggs each year… Inclusion of Ahiflower seeds can save over 2000 mt of limestone and 481 mt of oyster shell in Canadian egg production each year, in addition to savings in corn, soybean meal, soy oil, and shell mix inclusions.” Oyster shell supply chains have been impacted by climate change and coastal seawater temperature rises, so Ahiflower seed may provide poultry producers and backyard chicken owners alike a more cost-effective and sustainable way to boost Omega 3 egg quality and eggshell strength. Poultry and small wildlife ‘flock block’ supplement producers are taking notice.
These enhanced mineral and Omega 3 attributes, coupled with Ahiflower micronized seed’s lower protein and glycemic content, come back around full circle to yielding potential digestive tract buffering benefits in horses. In the UK and EU, Ahiflower micronized seed has EU feed materials registry status and GMP+ feed support materials listing. Leisure horses – which make up the largest group of horses in the EU and UK – do not require high-protein diets, therefore a source of protein that delivers other nutrients and potential health benefits yet isn’t as high in protein quantity or quality as typical soybean meal, may be useful. In addition, the non-GM status of Ahiflower micronized seed meal provides an additional benefit over soya in UK and EU markets where concern about GM materials is prevalent.
Ahiflower seed and press cake have very low digestible energy, at around half that of most other meals, presumably due to its high ash and low carbohydrate content. Ash-rich and calcium-rich supplements have been used to support equine gastric tract health, due to acid buffering and adsorbent properties. Ahiflower micronized seed is under evaluation presently in the UK for such uses. With cases of gastric disease high in ridden horses — up to 100% in some performance horse populations — interest in Ahiflower oil’s plant-based omegas (as launched already by Purina and Pavo in refined oil format) plus its unique mineral content conferring GI tract benefits is rising.
A recent study demonstrated that the use of proton pump inhibitors to manage gastric acidity levels in horses with ulcers, reduces the absorption of calcium as is the case in humans. The same study showed that traditional sources of calcium such as limestone flour were more negatively impacted than those with higher mineral bio-availability. Reduced calcium absorption is of concern for any animal but particularly in flat-racing where immature 2- and 3-year olds have an already elevated requirement for calcium. Trainers are increasingly aware of this issue due to the high incidence of ulcers in horses in training and are looking for ways to increase calcium intake in their horses. The abundance of calcium in Ahiflower seed makes it an obvious choice to meet this need and its omega 3 content would have an additional benefit for the particular issue of Equine Gastric Glandular Disease (EGGD), a form of gastric issue which is increasingly being described as an inflammatory disease rather than an ulcerative condition.
The high level of cereals in compound feeds produced for horses in training and the use of soya or rapeseed oil to supply additional energy mean the typical racehorse’s diet is high in Omega 6 and low in Omega 3 which is clearly not conducive to optimizing health and performance in an elite athlete. The inclusion of Ahiflower would therefore address two key nutritional issues for horses in training but also helps racing in its quest to be sustainable as described in the British Horseracing Association’s preliminary report, by offering a regeneratively farmed source of nutrition for racehorses.
Relief for forward-looking brands and formulators
As an uncertain 2023-2024 Peruvian anchovy harvest nears, and recognizing as GOED’s leadership has that algal and GMO crop EPA/DHA sources “…cannot come close to compensating for the shortage in anchovy oil supply,” Ahiflower products can provide relief to forward-looking brands and co-manufacturers.
Ahiflower oil and seed products, including Ahiflower+DHA algal oil and powder, offer exactly the combination of stable pricing, more than 2x higher total Omega 3 content vs standard fish oil, a fully derisked supply chain, and a regenerative (not GMO) farmed supply chain with full lot traceability that consumers are seeking. Innovative early industry adopters in animal and pet feed/supplements are starting to flock to it. Ahiflower products are available at scale today and help brands that have relied on fish oil to sidestep entirely its supply chain uncertainty and increasingly questionable sustainability. They are embracing Ahiflower products because the backing science and readily visible benefits of using Ahiflower products in horses, dogs, and poultry make it the better value proposition. They’re not looking back.
 Author’s personal communication.
 Author’s personal communication.
 Author’s personal communication.
 El-Zenary A (2023), Comparison of Ahiflower oil containing stearidonic acid to a high-alpha-linolenic acid flaxseed oil at two dietary levels on Omega 3 enrichment of egg yolk and tissues in laying hens. J Lipids 2023; 1-17. DOI: 10.1002/lipd.12370
 Author’s personal communication based on pre-publication findings
 Sykes BW, Hewetson M, Hepburn RJ, Luthersson N, Tamzali Y. European College of Equine Internal Medicine Consensus Statement--Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Adult Horses. J Vet Intern Med. 2015 Sep-Oct;29(5):1288-99. doi: 10.1111/jvim.13578. PMID: 26340142; PMCID: PMC4858038.
 Pagan J, Petroski-Rose L, Mann A, Hauss A. Omeprazole Reduces Calcium Digestibility in Thoroughbred Horses, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Volume 86, 2020, 102851, ISSN 0737-0806, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jevs.2019.102851.
 Rendle, D. BEVA Congress 2023 Non-responder: glandular ulcers.