Thursday, February 24, 2011


Organic food products command premium prices because they are supposed to contain only natural ingredients and are devoid of any synthetic chemical substances. Recently a controversy arose due to marketing of organic milk containing added DHA to boost its nutritional vale. While in a normal product such addition would not have raised any eye brows, organic foods can contain legally only substances included in the government -permitted list of additives. No doubt DHA is an important essential nutrient, especially for brain development and the industry probably thought that it, being a naturally occurring substance, can be safely added to organic foods without violating the concerned rules. Besides it was allowed to be used before in organic foods which was later rescinded. Probably the process of producing DHA involving culturing of algae and subsequent extraction using organic solvents could have disqualified it being a natural substance eligible to be added to organic milk.

"This is a willful and flagrant violation of the law governing organic foods" states Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group. Federal law strictly prohibits synthetic additives in organic foods unless the additive appears on the USDA's National Organic Program's list of allowed substances. Ingredients are included on this list only after careful review and approval by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an expert advisory panel, and the Secretary of Agriculture. Synthetic materials on the list include benign substances like baking powder that are not available organically but important for commercial food production.

"The specific type of laboratory-produced DHA oil that Horizon adds to its milk has never been reviewed by the National Organic Standards Board or approved by the USDA" explains Charlotte Vallaeys, a Farm and Food Policy Analyst with The Cornucopia Institute. Due to its past unauthorized use, federal regulators recently issued a statement confirming that adding these synthetic oils violates the Organic Foods Production Act. "It is therefore absolutely baffling that Dean Foods would introduce a product with synthetic DHA and have the audacity to label it organic, and it's even more disturbing that their certifier would allow this" Vallaeys stated. In addition to Dean Foods, a few other food processors and several infant formula manufacturers have included the synthetic additive, manufactured by Martek Biosciences Corporation, in organic products, despite their lack of approval. From documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Cornucopia discovered that the USDA, under the Bush Administration, had informally allowed the additives in organic foods after a backroom deal with corporate lobbyists. After numerous appeals by The Cornucopia Institute, and an investigative article in the Washington Post that exposed corruption under the previous administration, new leadership at the USDA's National Organic Program publicly acknowledged, in April 2010, that the Bush administration had misinterpreted federal rules when allowing Martek's DHA algal oil in organics.

It is a paradox that a well proven nutritional nutrient that could have increased the health value of the product when incorporated is sought to be prevented under the existing regulations. One wonders as to how the DHA fractionated from algal fat can be called synthetic as it is obtained by a physical process not involving any chemical reaction. If algal DHA, a patented product, is proved safe through scientific studies, there should not be any bar in using the same in products to boost their overall value to the consumer through limited interpretation of the rule book. Probably it may be time for these rules to be changed to accommodate such high nutrition value ingredients in as many processed foods as possible.


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