Wednesday, September 5, 2012


The organic food industry is again being hauled up for practices not compatible with the well laid down guidelines for manufacturing such foods. It was only recently that this industry was being faulted for adding synthetic chemicals to organic food formulations through back door tactics by unduly influencing the approval agencies to consent to their requirements rather than the welfare of the consumer. More over there are insidious attempts going on to buy out many small scale organic food players through financial inducements by some of the food giants with deep pockets. Here comes another instance of this industry "cocking a snook" at the regulatory authorities by including in their baby food formulations synthetic chemicals not currently approved. If such trends continue, the immense faith and hope consumers have on organic foods are likely to be shaken badly. Here is a critique on this issue.

The Cornucopia Institute, a not-for-profit policy research organization based in Wisconsin, filed a formal legal complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) against several infant formula manufacturers that are adding two synthetic preservatives to certified organic infant formula. The Organic Foods Production Act, passed by Congress in 1990, explicitly bans synthetic preservatives in organic food. "This is another blatant violation of the federal law governing organics by multi-billion dollar corporations that apparently think they can get away with anything," says Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy at The Cornucopia Institute. The preservatives are beta carotene and ascorbyl palmitate, synthetics that are added to infant formula to prevent the oxidation and rancidity of ingredients such as the controversial patented supplements DHA and ARA, manufactured by Martek Biosciences Corporation (Royal DSM) and marketed as Life'sDHA®. "This is not the first time that the pharmaceutical companies and agribusinesses, that manufacture infant formula, have quietly added to organic formula the same synthetic ingredients that they use in their conventional versions without first seeking the legally required approval for use in organics," says Vallaeys. According to The Cornucopia Institute, there have been more than a dozen unapproved synthetic ingredients that have been added to organic infant formula over the past five years. The public interest group has filed numerous legal complaints with the USDA, asking for removal of unapproved synthetic ingredients like the DHA algal oil and ARA fungal oils, manufactured by Martek, which was recently acquired by the Dutch conglomerate Royal DSM. While the USDA has admitted publicly that these synthetics were added to organics due to an erroneous interpretation by previous USDA leadership, the agency, after being pressured by industry, has refused to take enforcement action and pull the suspect products from store shelves. The DSM/Martek DHA and ARA oils, labeled on infant formula as "c. cohnii oil" and "m. alpina oil," have been controversial since the preponderance of scientific published research concluded that they do not benefit infant development. "These ingredients, which now appear to require additional synthetics as preservatives, amount to a gimmicky and risky marketing ploy," added Vallaeys.

The "fraud", if it can be called one, is truly disgusting considering that the products under the scanner are targeted at young and tender infants with uncertain consequences. It should not be forgotten that organic food movement originated because of the "imperial" practices of the food industry controlled more or less by about a dozen multi national companies in using ingredients with suspect safety credentials. With more and more followers patronizing these foods, main stream industry is apparently worried about their bottom line and are now trying to swallow the smaller organic food players for usurping the virgin market. The US government can never be pardoned for its repeated attempts to dilute organic food standards and by introducing terms like 70% organic, 100% organic etc the consumer is being led astray. Such attitudes and mindset for supporting monopolistic food industry giants should not be allowed to continue and consumer rights organizations and activists must resist such attempts fiercely.  


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