National board recommends change in organic formula

Consumer Reports News: December 23, 2011 02:08 PM

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has recommended that an additive, hexane-extracted DHA/ARA not be allowed for use in organic infant formula.

The NOSB is a federal advisory committee that makes recommendations about substances that may, or may not, be used in organic crop and livestock production, as well as in processed organic product. The recommendation came at a NOSB meeting earlier this month. It will be considered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP), which regulates the standards for any products that want to be certified as organically produced. NOP will decide whether the recommendation will be developed into a rule, a process that takes several months, and involves a period of public comment.

There have been concerns about DHA/ARA, chemically extracted versions of the essential fatty acids that occur naturally in breast milk. These are added to infant formula because they are thought to promote healthy eye and brain development The manufactured versions are processed using hexane, a petroleum refining by-product which is a neurotoxin when inhaled, a concern primarily for workers who make DHA/ARA.

“This is definitely a victory,” said Charlotte Vallaeys , director of Farm and Food Policy at The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based non-profit that supports ecologically produced local and organic food. “All the agricultural ingredients have to be organic.” The current recommendation from the NOSB applies only to organic infant formulas.

There remain concerns, though, because “ we would have wanted them to say that there be no volatile synthetic solvents,” said Vallaeys. “ We’re going to ask the National Organic Program of the USDA to ask for no volatile synthetic solvents.” Cornucopia is concerned that Martek/DSM, the manufacturer that produces the additive in the United States, will use acetone.

Martek/DSM has said that they’re “pleased with the vote,” according to corporate spokeswoman, Cassie France-Kelly. “DHA/ARA is important for infant nutrition. We’re doing whatever we can to be compliant with the rule-making process.”

Consumers should not expect to see a change in organic infant formula on shelves anytime soon, cautioned Soo Kim of the United States Department of Agriculture. “This was a recommendation, not a rule,” said Kim. “It takes a little bit of time. Once a rule is passed, we’re required to give business time to respond.”

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Merri Rosenberg

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