(This Action Alert is Over)

USDA violates the Organic Foods Production Act

Draft rule on carrageenan, cellulose and “inert” synthetics in pesticides disregards decisions by the National Organic Standards Board

Comment before Monday, June 3, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. ET

Political corruption and power grabs usually happen behind closed doors. The Cornucopia Institute has consistently called for more transparency at the USDA’s National Organic Program, but quite frankly, this power grab, in broad daylight, is unexpected.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the citizen panel charged by Congress to determine which synthetics are allowed in organic food production, voted to prohibit the use of carrageenan in organic infant formula, to prohibit the use of synthetic microcrystalline cellulose as a food ingredient, and set a deadline for reviewing synthetic and potentially harmful ingredients in previously approved pesticide formulations.

Organic_Watchdog_buttonBy law, the USDA cannot allow a synthetic material in organics unless it has been approved by the NOSB. But the agency seems completely uninterested in following the law governing organics, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. The USDA’s proposed rule, released on May 3, disregards the NOSB’s decisions entirely on these three important topics.

Please send a comment to the USDA—let them know that they are acting outside their legal authority and that we will not stand by quietly while they protect corporate interests rather than the health of consumers and the environment.


To submit your comment electronically:


Docket Number: AMS—NOP—11—0003

For the required field “Organization Name,” please enter “Citizen.”

The deadline for submitting comments is Monday, June 3.

SAMPLE LETTER (you may cut and paste, but you are encouraged to personalize)

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) does not give the USDA the authority to list materials on the National List unless they have been approved by the NOSB.

The USDA disregarded the proposed annotations, adopted by the NOSB, on List 3 inerts, carrageenan and cellulose (prohibiting or restricting their use).

I am especially concerned with the USDA’s decision not to prohibit the use of carrageenan in organic infant formula. Carrageenan is a harmful ingredient that has been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation and even cancer. It should be prohibited in all organic foods.

I would also like to see all ingredients in pesticide formulations used in organics reviewed as soon as possible, and the NOSB’s annotation would facilitate this.

In accordance with OFPA, I urge the USDA to rewrite the proposed rule adhering to the recommendations approved by the NOSB and to follow the law.

Again, please act by Monday, June 3 to submit your comments!


Microcrystalline Cellulose

Microcrystalline cellulose is a heavily processed, synthetic ingredient. Technical reviewers advised the NOSB in 2001 that it should be prohibited in organic foods.

In 2012, the NOSB voted to prohibit its use in organic foods.

But the USDA’s proposed rule disregards the NOSB’s decision and will continue to allow microcrystalline cellulose.

The USDA’s stated reason? Just in case a food manufacturer may be using the prohibited material.

The potential use of a material by a food manufacturer is not a criterion in the law that would justify its continued use, especially if the NOSB has voted to prohibit its use.

Sadly, the USDA’s draft rule appears to illustrate their interest in protecting the economic interests of corporate agribusiness rather than organic stakeholders.


For the past four decades, independent scientists have warned that the use of carrageenan in food is not safe.

Animal studies have repeatedly shown that food-grade carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and even malignant tumors. To read Cornucopia’s report on carrageenan, click here.

The story of carrageenan in organics mirrors the story of aspartame, artificial colors, genetically engineered organisms and other harmful ingredients in the food supply. The only studies capable of defending the safety of carrageenan are funded by those with a financial interest in the continued use of the material. This is not sound science, and should not dictate the policy decisions by the National Organic Program.

In a split decision, the NOSB listened to the corporate lobbyists in the room and voted to continue allowing carrageenan in organic food. However, to protect the very youngest and most vulnerable, they voted to prohibit it in organic infant formula. Now, the USDA’s proposed rule relists and allows carrageenan—without prohibiting it in organic infant formula, as the NOSB ruled.

List 3 Inerts and Pesticides

It is imperative, to maintain the integrity of organics, that all synthetic chemicals that are used in organic production be reviewed as soon as possible. The organic standards allow for the use of some pesticides, if they have been reviewed and deemed not harmful to human health or the environment. But many of these pesticide formulations contain “inert” ingredients.

The NOSB voted to establish a deadline for reviewing the inert ingredients, known as List 3 Inerts. These inerts are not always harmless (we know this to be particularly true for conventional pesticides), and the review of these ingredients is necessary to ensure the safety of organic food.

But the USDA’s draft rule disregards the NOSB’s decision. The USDA should adopt the NOSB’s recommended annotation with the expiration date.

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