Protect Babies’ and Children’s Health

March 21, 2011

In conventional foods, the government allows the use of toxic pesticides, genetically engineered crops, and novel synthetic additives that have not been tested for safety. As organic consumers, we say: “No thanks, we’d rather not be part of this huge uncontrolled experiment!”

Organic foods offer an alternative, but some pro-corporate members of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the panel set up by Congress to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on organic standards, would like to open the door to all synthetic additives to be added freely to organic foods—as long as they have, theoretically, nutritional value.

Any “nutrient” synthetic additive that comes on the market would become fair game for organics, even those that have never before been part of the human food system, chemically extracted with toxic solvents, grown in genetically engineered feedstock, and otherwise produced in ways that would shock any organic consumer.

Synthetic “nutrient” additives often have no scientifically proven benefits, and act primarily as corporate agribusiness marketing gimmicks.

We must reject this outrageous proposal! The USDA is encouraging citizens to send them your comments. The members of the NOSB and the National Organic Program need to hear the following message from organic consumers, farmers and businesses:

  • The NOSB Handling Committee’s proposal to allow any and all “nutrient” additives —without the required vetting as required by Congress—in organics is outrageous.
  • Essential nutrients that are required by the Food and Drug Administration should remain allowed in organics—but the organic standards should not be broadened to allow any synthetic, novel, untested “nutrient” additive created by agribusiness and biotechnology corporations.
  • Please reinforce that all synthetic additives should continue to be individually reviewed and approved for use in organics.
  • Reports from parents and health care professionals suggest that some infants react with diarrhea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal symptoms to two unreviewed synthetic additives already in organic infant formula. This should not be tolerated in organics!

The synthetic “nutrient additives” DHA and ARA, added to infant formula despite extremely weak scientific evidence of their benefits, and reportedly linked to serious gastrointestinal side effects in some infants, provide a striking example of the importance of keeping the organic standards strong.

The committee proposal is couched in terms of consumer “maximum freedom of choice” and “harmonizing government agency rules.” Consumers who wish to consume synthetic nutrient additives that were not carefully regulated by the National Organic Program are always free to buy conventional foods. If this proposal is accepted by the full Board at the April meeting, there will be one clear winner: corporations whose synthetic, non-organic, novel and untested additives will be allowed freely in organic foods.

Take Action

Sign the petition to the NOSB and NOP, asking them to take immediate action to ensure that organic foods are free from unreviewed and unapproved synthetic ingredients. Click here to sign the petition!

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To speak in person at the NOSB meeting:
In addition to sending their written comments, organic consumers living in the Seattle area, or willing to travel, are encouraged to also sign up for a five-minute speaking slot at the meeting at the end of April. Individuals can find more information about the meeting, and can pre-register for a slot by April 10, 2011, by visiting or by calling (202) 720-3252.

Want to Become an Expert? In-depth Background:

Under current federal organic standards, any manufacturer of a synthetic nutrient additive must petition the NOSB, have the additive reviewed by experts for safety and environmental sustainability concerns, give the opportunity for all members of the organic community to comment, and finally, gain approval from the Secretary of Agriculture before it can add the synthetic nutrient to organic foods.

This rigorous process protects consumers from novel, synthetic additives that could potentially be dangerous to human health or the environment. It is what sets organic foods apart—not just any additive developed in a laboratory and chemically produced in a factory can be added to organic foods without first being carefully reviewed by experts and accepted by the organic community.

Since federal regulations favor strong organic standards and work on behalf of organic consumers seeking safe and wholesome foods, it should come as no surprise that corporate agribusiness, and their friends on the National Organic Standards Board, seek to change this regulation—in favor of corporate profits.

Why the Battle over “Nutrient Additives”?
The battle over the role of “nutrient additives” in organics has come to the forefront after the Cornucopia Institute discovered, through Freedom of Information Act requests, that the previous administration at the National Organic Program (NOP) had inappropriately allowed the synthetic additives DHA and ARA in organic infant formula.

As reported in a Washington Post investigative report, the manager of the NOP under the Bush administration had brokered a backroom deal with a corporate lobbyist to misinterpret the federal organic standards in order to allow these profitable additives in organic foods.

In April 2010, the current manager of the National Organic Program at the USDA admitted publicly that this was an improper decision. The current NOP administration publicly shared its view that the decision to open the door to any additives allowed by the FDA was based on an “incorrect interpretation” of the organic standards, and encouraged the NOSB to clarify the situation. The Board should have reinforced that only vitamins and minerals required by the FDA should be allowed freely in organics—all others should be petitioned and carefully reviewed, as the law currently requires.

As a shock to the organic community, the corporate-affiliated members of the NOSB committee have proposed the exact opposite—to allow any synthetic additive, with alleged nutrient value, that comes on the conventional market to also be allowed in organic foods.

An example of “nutrient additives”—DHA and ARA
DHA and ARA are striking examples of why the committee’s proposal would indeterminably weaken the integrity of the organic label. Synthetic DHA and ARA would qualify as “nutrient additives.” They are produced by Martek Biosciences Corporation from fermented algae and fungus that have never before been part of the human diet. They have never been formally approved for use in organics, yet food manufacturers that believe they are above the law are already adding them anyway.

According to Martek, these organisms are cryogenically frozen, fermented in corn syrup (that is likely genetically engineered), chemically extracted with a toxic solvent, deodorized and bleached. The resulting oils, added to infant formula, contain nutrients that are structurally different from the nutrients found naturally in breast milk.

Numerous scientific review studies and meta-analysis studies conclude that there are no benefits to infant development from these additives—yet they are advertised as “supporting brain and eye development.”

Most disturbingly, reports from parents and health care professionals suggest that some infants react with diarrhea, vomiting, and serious gastrointestinal symptoms from these additives.

The NOSB Committee Proposal—A Sellout of Organic Values

The proposal by the NOSB’s Handling Committee will be voted on by the full Board at their April 26-29 meeting in Seattle, WA. The committee vote was split, 4-3, along pro-corporate profit/pro-consumer interest lines. With enough public outrage over this proposal, the full Board is likely to reject this outrageous proposal.

We urge the rejection of this proposal, not only to protect the future integrity of the organic label, but to ensure that synthetic additives like DHA and ARA, which have been linked to serious symptoms in some infants, are taken out of organics immediately.

The committee proposal is available on the NOP website. The proposal would change the organic standards to allow the following synthetics:

Nutrients, Vitamins and Minerals, Materials required or allowed by law for the purpose of enrichment, supplementation or fortification of foods, including infant formula, and materials the use of which is supported by the FDA or the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

There is currently no federal definition for “supplementation” of foods (a company looking to boost the protein level of an organic energy bar could therefore add chemically-extracted, conventional soy protein isolate, and argue it qualifies as a “nutrient additive”). There is currently no standard for what is “allowed by law.”

The proposal is poorly researched and poorly written—clearly with the intent of opening loopholes and allowing food manufacturers free rein to add any “nutrient” additive they’d like to organics.

Most importantly, the proposal’s authors clearly do not “get” organics. To say that any nutrient that is allowed by law or supported by the FDA should be allowed in organics is equivalent to stating that any pesticide that is allowed by law or supported by the EPA should be in organics.

It is a nonsensical statement—the whole point of organics is that the standards are stricter than those set for the conventional food supply. Organic consumers actually want strict standards, precisely because we are not interested in consuming anything that corporations develop to boost their own profits—especially when they are not tested for safety.

Say No to Synthetic Additives!
The strength of the organic label lies in the trust that consumers have in the strict standards and third-party certification system. Consumers like to know that their organic foods were grown without dangerous pesticides, genetically engineered crops, and other dangerous inputs, and that unapproved synthetic additives are kept out.

Organic consumers, farmers and business owners must send a strong message to the NOSB: the committee proposal on “nutrient additives” would allow untested, synthetic additives to organics—and we can not allow that to happen.

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