Organic Standards Updated, With Contentious Results

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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Savannah, GA—The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the policy recommendation body for the National Organic Program (NOP), decided on several organic food issues at its most recent meeting, including sulfites in wine, outdoor access for poultry and, controversially, DHA algal oil and ARA fungal oil as organic additives. The move to allow Martek Biosciences Corporation’s branded life’sDHA ingredient, derived from algae, and life’sARA, from a species of fungus, in certified organic food products was met with some criticism.

The vegetarian, algae-based DHA is found in the majority of fortified infant formulas in the U.S. market. The NOSB voted to recommend it for inclusion on the National List of organic ingredients, with the exception that it cannot be extracted using the synthetic solvent hexane. The language of this exclusion, points out Cornucopia Institute codirector and senior farm policy analyst Mark Kastel, does not rule out the use of other synthetic solvents such as isopropyl alcohol in the manufacturing process. He also claims that the ingredient is currently manufactured by Martek using hexane extraction.

The NOSB’s recommendation says that any organic foods or drinks that contain the DHA algal oil cannot contain any other non-organic agricultural ingredients. But Kastel and the Cornucopia Institute argue that there are several unapproved synthetic ingredients such as mannitol, sodium ascorbate and modified starch that are present in current organic baby food products containing the DHA ingredient. Of the recommendation, Kastel says, “We believe that their decision is in conflict with the current regulations and the Organic Foods Production Act. We will try to make that case to the new board next year and if we are not successful it will be in the hands of the USDA National Organic Program. If they promulgate a rule that’s in conflict with the enabling legislation we will likely go to court.”

Soo Kim of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service  points out that NOSB recommendations are not official until they are adopted by USDA. “Further, as applies to all substances on the National List, the NOSB reviews materials every five years from their listing date as part of the routine ‘sunset review’ process,” she says.

An additional decision was made to reject a petition to allow synthetic preservatives like sulfur dioxide in organic wine. The NOSB also voted on several animal welfare standards, including the issue of whether covered porches should count as “outdoor access” for organic poultry, which they decided against. The Board announced it would continue its work on animal welfare issues at its next meeting in May 2012.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2012