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National List not spurring innovation in organic ingredients: Study

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 22-Nov-2010

The National List of permitted non-organic ingredients in organic foods is not encouraging innovation in organic supply, claims a new paper published in Food Technology.

The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances details non-agricultural ingredients that are allowed to be used as ingredients in foods labeled organic or made with organic ingredients, and is reviewed every five years. It includes carrageenan and agar agar (both from seaweed), animal enzymes, mined calcium sulfate, and glucono delta lactone, among others.

The original thinking behind the establishment of a National List was that it would allow a wide range of USDA certified organic foods to come to market without being restricted by scarcity of minor ingredients.

“The NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) and NOP (National Organic Program) assumed that handlers would benefit from a “market incentive” and inclusion in this section would “drive innovation” of organic alternatives,” the paper’s authors wrote. “…The hope was that as the organic food industry grew, demand for these minor ingredients would also grow and organic options would become available.”

However, this has not been the case. Even though the organic industry has greatly expanded since the implementation of the National Organic Program, only one ingredient – rice starch – has been completely removed from the National List.

“Collectively, the evidence of this study suggests that the current review and petition process is at best not supporting the development of organic alternatives and at worst may actually be an impediment,” the authors wrote.

Their study examines the extent to which non-organically produced agricultural ingredients are used in organic foods, questioning whether the National List works in the way it was initially intended. The authors tapped into Mintel’s Global New Products Database for 2008 and found 1,017 food and beverage launches containing organic ingredients. Of those, the researchers examined a final sample of 629 products with full ingredient information.

Relatively few (28) were described as 100 percent organic, while 76 percent of product launches fell into the category that requires more than 95 percent of ingredients to come from a certified organic source.

The study supports the idea that there is insufficient demand from the organic market to prompt suppliers to manufacture an ingredient, but adds that on the other hand, removing some products from the list could encourage supply.

“For example, rice starch was only present in two percent of products examined, but 80 percent of the products that contained any rice starch used an organic form of the ingredient,” the authors wrote. “This is likely due to the fact that rice starch expired from the National List in June of 2009. Therefore, manufacturers had an incentive to begin sourcing organic versions of the ingredient.”

The authors also called for an approach that draws on the experience of the UK’s Soil Association, which said in 2008 that it would require organic sourcing of lecithin, locust bean gum, and guar gum by 2009. The organic certification body also offered help with linking manufacturers and potential suppliers.

“This type of model may allow the NOP to both incentivize the creation of new organic ingredients and enforce the highest standard of “organic preference”,” they wrote.

Source: Food Technology

November 2010, Volume 64, No.11

“The Paradox of Organic Ingredients”

Authors: Debra Van Camp, Pauline Ie, Noah Muwanika, Yael Vodovotz, and Neal Hooker

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