The Cornucopia Institute, a national organic industry watchdog group, has urged the members of USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to vote to preserve the integrity of organic food and farming at its meeting in Savannah, GA. The USDA meeting was planned for the end of November.

Some key issues on the agenda include using artificial preservatives and genetically modified ingredients, which have been petitioned for use in organic food and drinks, including baby formula. The discussion will be debated by a USDA panel, which has felt a tug of war between corporate business interests and organic advocates.

The 15-member NOSB is a citizen panel, set up by Congress, to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on organic policy and rulemaking. Under the Bush and Obama administrations, the USDA Secretaries have been criticized for appointing a significant number of corporate representatives, whose primary interest appears to be loosening the federal organic standards, allegedly in pursuit of enhanced profits, according to Cornucopia Institute.

“We think this meeting may well decide the fate of organic food and agriculture in the country,” says Mark Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, which represents family-scale organic farmers and their consumer allies across the US.

While these synthetic ingredients seemingly fail the legal criteria for the inclusion in organic foods, the NOSB committee recommending their use is comprised mostly of representatives working for corporations like General Mills and Campbell Soup, which have only a sliver of their total sales in the organic food sector, according to Kastel.

Additives being recommended for use in organics include nutritional oils manufactured by Martek Biosciences Corporation, part of the $30-billion multinational conglomerate Royal DSM. These oils are genetically modified to provide isolated omega-3 and omega-6 nutrients DHA and ARA, are derived from algae and soil fungus, and are stabilized with a wide variety of ingredients, according to the Cornucopia Institute.

When incorporated in infant formula, these oils are processed with a neurotoxic solvent, n-hexane. A byproduct of gasoline refinement, n-hexane is regulated by the EPA as a hazardous pollutant. These solvents, while used in conventional food production, are expressly forbidden in organic food production, according to the Cornucopia Institute.

“What is most egregious about the NOSB push to approve the Martek Biosciences Corporation petition is that these DHA and ARA oils are in no way essential in organics, as claimed by Martek,” says Kastel. “Other organic manufacturers have successfully used fish oil and egg yolks as legal and natural alternative sources of supplemental DHA.”

NOSB will also vote on a petition allowing the use of the synthetic preservative sulfur dioxide (sulfite) in wine. Winemakers that currently use sulfites are prohibited from using the USDA organic seal on their labels. “Approving sulfites, not only a synthetic preservative but a common allergen, would represent another blow to consumer confidence in the organic label, which has always signified the absence of artificial preservatives,” Kastel adds.

For more information:

Cornucopia testimony and detailed analysis on Martek Biosciences Corporation’s proposed novel DHA/ARA oils

Cornucopia’s response to the wine industry lobby’s request for artificial preservatives (sulfites) in organic wine