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New USDA rule means some organic products in non-compliance

By Lorraine Heller , 14-Jun-2007

Organic products containing certain non-organic minor ingredients are now officially in non-compliance with US government organic certifications, following the implementation of a new rule last week.

The National Organic Program regulation, which came into effect June 9, clarifies that only ingredients appearing in the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List) are permitted for use in organic products.



The new rule particularly impacts the use of 38 non-organic ingredients, including colors, starches and oils, which are currently being used in organic products due to a misinterpretation of National List regulations.



According to USDA, organic producers and handlers may have thought that any non-organic agricultural substance could be used in organic products if this was determined unavailable in organic form by an accredited certifying agent.



However, the implementation of the new rule is unlikely to cause any long-term concerns to manufacturers of organic products, as USDA is currently working on revising its National List to include the additional 38 ingredients. This means that manufacturers should be able to use these in their non-organic form when an organic counterpart is not available commercially.



The proposed amendments are a result of recommendations submitted by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), based on petitions made by industry.




"Because these substances are critical to organic production and handling operations, producers and handlers should be able to use them in their operations as soon as possible," wrote the USDA in a notice published in the Federal Register last month.



"Loss of the use of any of these products would disrupt the trade of food products currently being labeled as 'organic'. Therefore, the continued allowed use of these products as ingredients in foods labeled as 'organic' is necessary to prevent possible significant business disruption for organic producers and handlers."



The agency yesterday confirmed that the materials are still under review and that "we are doing our best to work these materials through the regulatory process as quickly as possible".



In the interim, all agricultural products used as minor ingredients in the 5 percent of products labeled as 'organic' must currently be either certified organic or be already listed in the National List and have been determined by the certifier as not being commercially available in organic form.



The USDA said that products that have been produced and labeled as of midnight June 8, 2007, will be considered in the stream of commerce and may continue to be sold as organic until supplies are exhausted.



The rule currently under review would add the following substances to the National List:



Colors from annatto, beet juice, beta-carotene, black currant juice, black/purple carrot juice, blueberry juice, carrot juice, cherry juice, chokeberry-aronia juice, elderberry juice, grape juice, grape skin extract, paprika, pumpkin juice, purple potato juice, red cabbage extract, red radish extract, saffron, and turmeric.



In addition: casings from processed intestines (used as sheaths in the manufacture of sausages), celery powder (used to facilitate the natural curing process of meat), and chia (used to add fiber and omega-3 to baked goods and beverages.



Other ingredients include: dillweed oil, fish oil, fructooligosaccharides, frozen galangal, gelatin, water extracted Arabic, guar, locust bean, and carob bean gums, hops, oligofructose enriched inulin, kelp for use only as a thickener and dietary supplement, konjac flour, unbleached lecithin, frozen lemongrass, unbleached orange shellac, pectin, chipotle chile pepper, cornstarch, unmodified rice starch, sweet potato starch, Turkish bay leaves, Wakame seaweed, and whey protein concentrate.

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