Does the organic label mean anything? According to the Cornucopia Institute -- an organic industry research and watchdog organization -- there are illegal synthetic chemicals in some products labeled organic, thanks to corruption in the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP). The group announced yesterday it has requested the department's Office of Inspector General to investigate what seems to be a long-standing controversy.
Heard of DHA and ARA (docosahexaenoic and arachidonic acid)? These supplements -- added to milk (including Dean Foods' Horizon), infant formula and other organic foods -- are derived from oils processed with synthetic petrochemical solvents like hexane and isopropyl alcohol, which Cornucopia's Farm and Food Policy Director Charlotte Vallaeys said are "explicitly banned in organic production."
Apparently the USDA owned up to "inappropriately" allowing the oils in organic foods in 2010, but rather than impose corrective action, the agency delayed enforcement for more than a year. How convenient this was for Martek (the biotech conglomerate and maker of the disputed synthetics), who then had time to petition for review and keep its products in the market. In December 2011, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) approved Martek's petitions for its patented versions of DHA and ARA. In its press release, Cornucopia maps out many conflicts of interest (in the NOSB as well as the scientists that testified, all on Martek's payroll) and misleading claims that brought out this unfortunate result.
Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission has forced Dean Foods to alter its deceptive advertising for Horizon DHA supplemented milk regarding brain function and other misleading health claims. In fact, reports of infants experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms after consuming Martek's DHA and ARA oils in infant formula have raised serious health concerns, recapped in the Cornucopia video below:
Is taking banned products out of organic foods to keep the integrity of organic labeling intact too much to ask? Consumers, particularly parents of infants, shouldn't have to worry that the food their baby is eating has unapproved synthetic chemicals in it. Tip of the hat to Cornucopia for acting as an organizational whistleblower on this issue. It would be nice if USDA did the same, and stood up against industry giants to candidly regulate our food supply. As it should!
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.