What are the Levels of PCBs in Kirkland Signature Fish Oil Capsules?

March 5th, 2010 · 24 Comments

Recently there was a news story on CBS News about a lawsuit that will force manufacturers to disclose the levels of PCBs (or polychlorinated biphenyls)  in fish oil capsules.  The worry is that these levels are extremely high which is incredibly unsafe, not to mention illegal, because elevated PCB levels can lead to cancer.  So, a group of environmentalists in California brought a lawsuit against eight supplement manufacturing or distribution companies to force them to disclose the PCB levels in their fish oil capsules.  The eight companies are:  CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid, General Nutrition Corp., Solgar, Twinlab, Now Health, Omega Protein and Pharmavite.  The suit claims that all of the companies are violating California’s Proposition 65 by not informing consumers about non-zero levels of PCBs.  In their initial testing conducted by the Plaintiffs, they found that levels of PCBs in supplements for popular fish oil products varied wildly:  from about 12 nanograms per recommended dose in the best performer to more than 850 nanograms in the worst performer.

KS Fish Oil Capsules

KS Fish Oil Capsules

So, this got one of my readers, Steve from NJ, wondering about the levels of PCBs in the Kirkland Signature Fish Oil Capsules, and naturally if he needed to be concerned about taking them.  Luckily, Costco isn’t one of these companies and was more than willing to give him all of the relevant information when he sent a Customer Support query using the online form at Costco.com asking about the manufacturer and PCB levels for Kirkland Signature Natural Omega 3 Fish Oil 1000 mg.  This was the response that he received:

Kirkland Signature Fish Oil omega-3 fish oil products use only the oil from wild ocean fish, and do not use oil from farm-raised fish. The fish oil is derived from salmon, sardines and anchovies. Each batch of fish oil is processed using state-of-the-art molecular distillation or absorbent technology to assure high levels of purity. All batches of fish oil are guaranteed to pass the stringent standards of the CRN (Council for Responsible Nutrition) Omega-3 Monograph. The CRN’s standard for PCBs are no more than 0.09 mg/gram and no more than 0.1 mcg/gram for mercury. In addition, the fish oil products meet the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) omega-3 fish oil purity standards as well as comply with all standards prescribed by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
We are unable to provide vendor or manufacturer contact information for our Kirkland Signature products.  If you have questions regarding one of our private label products, please contact our Customer Service number at 800-774-2678.

Kirkland Signature Fish Oil omega-3 fish oil products use only the oil from wild ocean fish, and do not use oil from farm-raised fish. The fish oil is derived from salmon, sardines and anchovies. Each batch of fish oil is processed using state-of-the-art molecular distillation or absorbent technology to assure high levels of purity. All batches of fish oil are guaranteed to pass the stringent standards of the CRN (Council for Responsible Nutrition) Omega-3 Monograph. The CRN’s standard for PCBs are no more than 0.09 mg/gram 0.09 mcg/gram and no more than 0.1 mcg/gram for mercury. In addition, the fish oil products meet the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) omega-3 fish oil purity standards as well as comply with all standards prescribed by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

We are unable to provide vendor or manufacturer contact information for our Kirkland Signature products.  If you have questions regarding one of our private label products, please contact our Customer Service number at 800-774-2678.

While they won’t tell you who the manufacturer is, they are willing to disclose the PCB levels.  So, if you had been worried or concerned about the safety of your KS fish oil capsules, now you have the information you need to make an informed decision about their safety.  And thanks to Steve for sharing this information with everyone!

Of course, you do have to wonder about how bad the numbers are for the manufacturer’s and distributors that won’t release this information.  If they’re not illegal, why don’t they just disclose it?

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24 Responses so far ↓

  1. 1 Rupi // 2013.10.06 at 11:34 am

    CRN is an association that represents the companies and supplement industry. I wish it could be meeting standards set by an arms length organization or one that represents us consumers or health standards. There is mercury and other dangerous chemicals found in wild fish populations so boasting thats their source is not a strong marketing tool. Fish farms are better able to monitor/ control environment and what fish are exposed to. I am no expert but I do not feel more confident. I personally would like NO pcb, arsenic or other carcinogens in any supplement i take regardless of what is deemed acceptable levels. What to do?

  2. 2 Melissa // 2013.06.27 at 11:05 pm

    Does anyone know if Kirkland chicken breasts that are frozen have arsenic in them??

  3. 3 Lori // 2013.02.24 at 1:55 pm

    Hey here’s something to ponder…. I got my well water tested for free by the county through some free program and along with that my husband’s urine was tested also. The county was testing for arsenic. While our water tested negative my husband’s urine tested positive and quite high for arsenic!!! My husband works out at a gym 5 days a week. We eat Costco’s farm fresh (in the Atlantic, I am told by Costco meat dept employees) 4 times a week, my husband takes the Nature Made fish oil 1200mg from Costco 2 soft gels/day and eats Costco’s Organic apples 2-3 apples per day. Dr. Oz fairly recently came out with a report that Apples even though they may be stated they are organic and come from a US state – they may not be and the US state may get them from other countries such as China in particular and Dr. Oz said that China uses pesticides on the apples (organic or not) and arsenic is in the SOIL. My husband also takes a Puritan’s Pride brand (not purchased at Costco) Q-sorb, CO Q-10 Red Yeast Rice soft gel – and I have also recently learned that RICE can be high in arsenic!! SO….the question is …..which of these items is it? Costco talks about their strict testing measures their products go thru…hmmmm One or more of these items has arsenic in it…and that is SCARY! When we think we are keeping ourselves healthy and making wise choices, we’re in essence poisoning ourselves!! Now, I, the wife had not had my urine tested but am planning on testing it as soon as I can. I’m thinking about taking these food items and vitamin supplements to a lab and getting them all tested. It would be nice to get a concrete answer…Does Costco really check for EVERYTHING?

    • 4 Kimberly // 2013.02.24 at 6:29 pm

      Perhaps it is from the water at the gym. There’s arsenic in a lot of foods and things that you ingest all the time. There are a lot of fruit products that you can get high levels of arsenic from, such as grape and apple seeds as well as apricot pits, and a lot of the associated juices have high arsenic levels as well. “Consumer Reports also found that Americans who reported drinking apple or grape juice had arsenic levels in their urine that were 20% higher than people who didn’t drink those juices.” Here’s a good WebMD article about arsenic in food: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/arsenic-food-faq.

      • 5 Rodney // 2014.05.04 at 4:20 am

        I think you are confusing arsenic with cyanide. Cyanide is found in the pits and seeds of fruits in the rose family.

        • 6 Kimberly // 2014.05.05 at 2:41 am

          Arsenic is naturally occurring in many fruits, vegetables, grains and even fish, plus it is in soil and water from contamination as well, so will find its way into many foods. But yes, I misspoke when I said arsenic and not cyanide when I listed peach pits because that is definitely cyanide. Duh.

  4. 7 Ron // 2011.11.08 at 3:33 pm

    What about arsenic levels?

    This is also an issue with fish oils, and Nordic Naturals proudly publishes that they are among the lowest in the world for salmon oil fish oil gels. They list Brand A and Brand B to compare, and show that Nordic’s is at .05ppm arsenic while the others are 2.04 and 2.61ppm — 40x lower arsenic in Nordic’s.

    Is there any data on arsenic levels in Kirkland’s fish oil?

  5. 8 linda // 2011.08.11 at 10:12 pm

    I’m disapointed with many sub- headings insinuating costco is USP verified! Misleading My bottle says MEG-3 and trust the source, are registered trademarkof OCEAN NUTRITION CANADA,ltd. So not from usa I guess (kirkland signature enternic coated 1200mg w/only 684 meg -3 (410 EPA, 274mg DHA) with no salmon,but SOY, which seems to be in everything now. Many other fillers too, but who knows what is REALLY in it because not USP seal, I wouldn’t have bought it but thought it was USP online order, my fault I missed it, Consummers report mentioned one of their mulit vits that was USP, so I guess all were? pretty dumb lol both vits I got are HUGE multi for 50 & over (something like that) I gave them away, rediculously too big and very small amounts of vitamins in them, Conummers is messing up alot these years.

  6. 9 Bart // 2010.10.05 at 2:49 am

    The manufacturer of the bottle of Kirkland Omeg-3 fish oil softgells that I bought over the weekend here in South Korea lists is listed as Weider Global Nutrition U.S.A. on the label.

  7. 10 Kimberly // 2010.09.17 at 1:54 am

    @JK, I guess you didn’t read it very clearly because it definitely talks about the PCB levels as well the mercury levels because both are referenced in the response from Costco that I have listed above. Also, if you go to the Costco.com page that I mentioned in my comment previous to yours, #13, they discuss both PCBs and the amounts of Omega 3, as well as the two types of Omega 3, that are you getting in their fish oil capsules.

  8. 11 JK // 2010.09.16 at 11:21 pm

    Your article only talks about mercury levels, not PCBs. And from what the Costco letter says, it’s not guaranteeing anything.

    Farm raised fish are not the only ones at risk for PCBs. PCBs are found in fish all over the world. PCBs only get more concentrated in the purification process for making Omega 3 products, so the only way to know if an Omega 3 product is safe for PCBs is to test the final product like the researchers did for the products in the law suit.

    Also, note Kirkland Signature is not 100% Omega 3. You are getting other fatty fish oil too, likely Omega 6, not so good for you.

    Take a look at Shaklee, they use a triple distillation process and have less than one part per trillion of PCB, in their final product.

  9. 12 Kimberly // 2010.05.26 at 3:44 am

    I found an article that talks all about mercury levels in fish oil, and includes test results from the Kirkland Signature brand. “Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega, Sundown, and Kirkland brands all showed zero levels of mercury (below 6 ug/L).”

    Also, it appears that Costco.com has updated the information that they have online for the Kirkland Signature Enteric Coated Fish Oil capsules and specifically say that they remove PCBs and dioxins through molecular distillation to ensure purity, but it seems pretty similar to the information I’ve posted here.

  10. 13 Kimberly // 2010.05.25 at 2:28 pm

    I’m not sure what the latest is on this issue. I’ll see if I can find any information.

  11. 14 Ken Chida // 2010.05.25 at 2:12 pm

    What ever happened to this issue? Did Kirkland make any official statements? I continue to take Kirkland fish oil as we speak.

  12. 15 dave // 2010.03.09 at 3:30 pm

    Below is a cut/paste version of the statement apparently released elsewhere by Pharmavite (NatureMade)….based on the verbiage, it seems clear they are the manufacturer of the Kirkland brand…

    Pharmavite (manufacturer of Nature Made) released a statement disputing the lawsuit’s claims: “Nature Made’s omega-3 fish oil products use only the oil from sustainable, wild ocean fish, and do not use oil from farm-raised fish. Each batch of fish oil is processed using state-of-the-art molecular distillation or absorbent technology to remove PCBs and dioxins, which guarantees purity and potency.”

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfmoms/detail?entry_id=58320#ixzz0hiHR3Pun

  13. 16 Ken Chida // 2010.03.08 at 1:29 pm

    http://www.crnusa.org/pdfs/O3TargetValues100802.pdf

    Cut & paste from CRN pdf: “PCBs less than 0.09 mg/kg (ppm). Lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic: each less than 0.1 mg/kg (ppm).”

    Costco seems to have gotten the mercury figure right, but the one for PCBs is wrong. It’s difficult to make any conclusions without more data. I’m waiting for Costco to do their due diligence before I accuse them of any wrongdoing.

    Incidentally, let’s not forget why there are PCBs in our waters to begin with…. :)

  14. 17 Kimberly // 2010.03.08 at 11:04 am

    Gosh, I guess I was just expecting it to be kilogram, since I had already looked at the CRN’s stuff and the number part was correct. But yeah, I’m going to guess both of those are slight typo mistakes from the folks at Costco, especially since they are claiming that they go according to the standards set by CRN.

    So, we all agree, they are just typos and they really mean PCB’s less than 0.09 mg/kg and mercury levels less than 0.1 mg/kg.

  15. 18 Greg // 2010.03.08 at 10:58 am

    Kimberly – in the original post it says:

    “The CRN’s standard for PCBs are no more than 0.09 mg/gram”

    In your comment it says:
    “…the PCB number that Costco quoted of 0.09 mg/kg (ppm) was perfectly accurate.”

    The confusion is that’s a 1000 times difference. I’m betting that was a typo as well.

  16. 19 Kimberly // 2010.03.08 at 2:36 am

    I wasn’t sure what the CRN’s standard were, so I went to check it out and found a PDF they have about Omega-3 target values (you can check out their Omega-3 page here). Turns out that the PCB number that Costco quoted of 0.09 mg/kg (ppm) was perfectly accurate. They have that in their own documentation, so I’m not sure what the confusion is from. However, on the number quoted on the mercury, CRN’s standard is 0.1 mg/kg (ppm) and not 0.1 mcg/kg that Costco stated in their response. And honestly, my guess is that was just a typo.

  17. 20 heavy-duty // 2010.03.08 at 1:53 am

    Interesting info but I’m still confused by the numbers and the Costco statement. Did Costco state that they are below the numbers of the concerned CA group or did they claim they are within code of industry practices? That statement sound like a bunch of gob-bely-gook. The one thing I do know is both my Kirkland Signature Vit E and my Omega-3 products have a tendency to stick together and are difficult to separate when you get towards the bottom quarter of the bottle. It must be the weight of the product because they’re in large count bottles. I don’t have this problem with any of my smaller (30ct) gel type vitamins so I know it’s not because I’m storing them improperly. Also, the Costco products come in clear see-through bottles and most other brands of gelatin Vit E come in darker brown bottles. I wonder if the clear bottles diminish the efficacy of the product. Just wondering …

  18. 21 neelie // 2010.03.06 at 11:27 am

    I wonder where Mega-Red is in this? It’s not a Costco brand, but I buy the product all the time.

  19. 22 Greg // 2010.03.05 at 5:54 pm

    Cappy – where do you read the “not responsible for their manufacturers” statement?

    I agree with Ken, something is wrong in the math. .09 mg/gram = that’s 90,000 nanograms / gram of fish oil, and that’s certainly not right.

    From this page http://wbztv.com/health/fish.oil.pcbs.2.1532453.html
    it says the CRN limit is 90 ng/day.

    That certainly on the lower side, but not below all the other manufacturers. Note that the companies aren’t being sued for having high PCB levels in their fish oil, just for not disclosing the actual levels.

  20. 23 Ken Chida // 2010.03.05 at 5:14 pm

    You might have a typo in the response that you had received from Costco. Instead of, “The CRN’s standard for PCBs are no more than 0.09 mg/gram”, shouldn’t it be “The CRN’s standard for PCBs are no more than 0.09 mcg/gram”? The unit of mass appears to be incorrect. According to CRN, the max allowable is 90 parts per billion — in other words, 90 nano-grams or 0.09 micro-grams. “mg” is milli-gram.

  21. 24 Cappy // 2010.03.05 at 4:07 pm

    Thanks for this information. If I read it correctly, Costco is saying they are way below what is allowed at .09?

    I don’t understand the statement not responsible for their manufacturers. Does that mean that those are their standards but manufacturers may not follow them? If so, does it mean anything to give out the .09 information?

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