The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), at its recent May meeting, had its first ever opportunity to remove a conventional food ingredient from the “National List.” The National List includes minor food ingredients of which manufacturers may use conventional versions if the organic version is commercially unavailable.

Soy lecithin, used in foods such as chocolate, infant formula and cooking spray, has been available in organic form since 2004, yet some certifying agents allow food manufacturers to use the conventional version (conventional lecithin is cheaper, made with conventionally grown soybeans and processed with the hazardous petrochemical solvent hexane).

If the organic industry is to evolve – to grow in integrity as well as volume – companies that develop organic versions of minor ingredients should be rewarded for their efforts with a change in the regulations that removes ingredients as allowed substances on the National List. And only by appropriately removing ingredients from the National List will all food manufacturers be forced to use organic versions.

Cornucopia has been pushing for removal of soy lecithin from the National List and mounted a letter writing campaign to the NOSB favoring removal (more than half of the 500 public comments received in advance of the meeting concerned lecithin, with the vast majority supporting removal).

The NOSB voted in favor of the petition to remove liquid soy lecithin from the National List. But they then decided against removing a second version, de-oiled (“dry”) lecithin. Dry lecithin is not yet available in organic form because nobody has found an alternative to the solvent acetone that’s used for de-oiling. While a partial victory for organic integrity, the NOSB clearly caved to pressure from big corporations that came to lobby for dry lecithin (used as a matter of convenience by food manufacturers as it’s easier to handle than liquid lecithin).

We urge you to check ingredient labels and avoid organic foods with non-organic soy lecithin. But we do not think it’s the consumer’s responsibility to check labels for non-organic ingredients in organic foods. Organic consumers should be able to trust the green “USDA certified organic” seal. The NOSB let us down when they decided to keep a hexane-extracted, acetone-extracted, conventional soy lecithin in organic foods for the convenience of food manufacturers. We will continue the fight for the integrity of the organic seal!

(A much fuller accounting of the hexane-soy relationship is contained in our new report, Behind the Bean)

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