August 8, 2012
Files Formal Legal Complaint with USDA
Cornucopia Institute, a
not-for-profit policy research organization based in Wisconsin,
filed a formal legal complaint with the United States Department
of Agriculture (USDA)
against several infant formula manufacturers that are adding two
synthetic preservatives to certified organic infant formula.
Organic Foods Production Act,
passed by Congress in 1990, explicitly bans synthetic preservatives
in organic food.
“This is another blatant violation
of the federal law governing organics by multi-billion dollar
corporations that apparently think they can get away with
anything,” says Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food
The Cornucopia Institute.
The preservatives are beta carotene and
ascorbyl palmitate, synthetics that are added to infant formula to
prevent the oxidation and rancidity of ingredients such as the
controversial patented supplements
ARA, manufactured by Martek
Biosciences Corporation (Royal
DSM) and marketed as Life’sDHA®.
“This is not the first time that the
pharmaceutical companies and agribusinesses, that manufacture
infant formula, have quietly added to organic formula the same
synthetic ingredients that they use in their conventional
versions without first seeking the legally required approval for
use in organics,” says Vallaeys.
According to The Cornucopia Institute,
there have been more than a dozen unapproved synthetic ingredients
that have been added to organic infant formula over the past five
The public interest group has filed
numerous legal complaints with the USDA, asking for removal of
unapproved synthetic ingredients like the DHA algal oil and ARA
fungal oils, manufactured by Martek, which was recently acquired by
the Dutch conglomerate
the USDA has admitted publicly that
these synthetics were added to organics due to an erroneous
interpretation by previous USDA leadership, the agency, after being
pressured by industry, has refused to take enforcement action and
pull the suspect products from store shelves.
The Martek DHA and ARA oils, labeled on infant formula as “c. cohnii
oil” and “m. alpina oil,” have been controversial since the
preponderance of scientific published research concluded that they
do not benefit infant development.
“These ingredients, which now appear
to require additional synthetics as preservatives, amount to a
gimmicky and risky marketing ploy,” added Vallaeys.
When formula with Martek’s DHA and ARA
first came on the market, the FDA received numerous adverse reaction
reports from parents and healthcare providers who noted serious
gastrointestinal symptoms in babies who had previously tolerated
formula without the Martek DHA and ARA oils.
Synthetic beta carotene and ascorbyl palmitate, according to the
International Formula Council (the industry’s trade-lobby group),
contribute no nutritional value to infant formula, but rather serve
to prevent oxidation and rancidity.
Organic standards require that a
synthetic ingredient cannot qualify for use in organic foods if its
primary purpose is as a preservative.
The International Formula
Council, which is now petitioning the USDA to legalize the use of
these synthetic materials in organics, never uses the word
“preservative” to describe synthetic beta carotene and ascorbyl
They instead use terms like
“prevent undesirable oxidation” and
“prevent rancidity” in “powder formulations containing DHA and
The federal organic standards also
require that synthetics be allowed in organic foods only if they are
“The only reason why these two
synthetic preservatives are added to infant formula is to
prevent the rancidity of some of the other synthetic ingredients
that are not essential and have also been added illegally,” says
“This is a slippery slope, and we
urge the USDA to take appropriate enforcement action and put an
end to the practice of first adding synthetic additives to
organic food, including infant formula, and then seeking
In its complaint, Cornucopia also asked
the USDA to investigate the formula manufacturers’ organic
certifying agent, Quality Assurance International (QAI).
QAI is one of the largest organic
certifying agents, and has come under fire in the past for
certifying organic livestock operations that failed to meet the
organic standards for animal welfare and outdoor access. QAI has
also allowed its clients to add a number of other allegedly illegal
synthetic ingredients to organic food and livestock feed.
The Cornucopia Institute refers to QAI as, “the corporate certifier
“Consumers should be able to trust
that the organic label represents foods that are free from
unnecessary synthetic ingredients, and they rely on third-party
certification by USDA-accredited certifying agents,” says Mark
Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute.
“But that system breaks down when certifiers like QAI allow
their clients to add unreviewed and unapproved synthetic
ingredients and when the USDA, when faced with industry
pressure, fails to carry out its enforcement duties.”
buyer’s guide to avoiding organic foods with
DSM/Martek’s DHA algal oil and ARA fungal oil, including
foods aimed at adults and children, like Horizon milk (manufactured
by Dean Foods), is available on The Cornucopia Institute’s website.
The Cornucopia Institute named the following brands of organic
infant formula in its complaint to the USDA:
Similac Organic is produced by Abbott
Laboratories, a $30 billion
The other brands are produced by PBM
Nutritionals, owned by Perrigo, a $2 billion dollar pharmaceutical
corporation. The only commercially available baby formula available
in US stores that does not contain these synthetic preservatives is
Baby’s Only Organic, manufactured by Nature’s One.
Baby’s Only Organic is certified organic
A comprehensive report,
Replacing Mother - Imitating Human Breast Milk
in the Laboratory, is also available here.