An ‘overly restrictive’ policy on the fortification of organic foods with non-organic functional ingredients such as omega-3s could stifle innovation in the organic sector and damage consumers, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) has warned.
The trade body, which represents dietary supplement manufacturers and ingredient suppliers, was speaking ahead of the next meeting of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in Seattle.
NOSB, which advises USDA on organic policy and rulemaking, will meet on April 26-29 to consider (among other things) a proposal to retain the right to keep certain synthetic vitamins, minerals and ‘accessory nutrients’ within a list of permitted substances that can be added to organic foods.
Federal law prohibits synthetic additives in organic foods unless the additive appears on a list of approved substances. In 2007, USDA's national organic programme (NOP) allowed the use of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and ARA in organic foods as they had GRAS—generally recognized as safe—status. However, it later emerged that FDA policy did not in fact apply to the use of substances such as ARA, DHA, taurine or sterols added to organic products such as infant formula, milk, pet food or energy bars as nutrients, so USDA agreed to review its policy.
The proposal to allow synthetic vitamins, minerals and accessory nutrients in the list, which is strongly opposed by some organisations such as Wisconsin-based farm policy research group the Cornucopia Institute, was in consumers’ best interests, argued CRN’s vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs Douglas MacKay in an open letter to the NOSB.
“It would be unfortunate if consumers of organic foods were forced by federal policy to choose between the organic foods they desire or non-organic enriched foods that provide the added nutrients they seek.”
CRN: Yes vote would harmonize the rules
It would also be highly damaging to the organic food industry, he added: “A federal organic fortification policy that does not allow organic foods to be fully fortified seriously limits the growth potential of the industry and will limit innovation of novel products.
“CRN supports a policy that continues to allow for the use of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients as long as the fortification material is currently permitted for use in food products by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”
The proposal would also harmonize the rules on fortification, supplementation and enrichment of organic foods with rules governing other foods “in a manner that avoids unnecessary conflict with other statutes and governmental agencies”, he said.
Cornucopia: ‘Yes’ vote would weaken trust in organic label
However, Charlotte Vallaeys, director Farm and Food Policy at the Cornucopia Institute, urged NOSB members to “reject this outrageous proposal” and claimed that a ‘yes’ vote would itself stifle innovation by failing to provide industry with any incentive to develop organically produced functional food ingredients.
A ‘yes’ vote would also “irreparably weaken [consumer] trust in the integrity of the organic label”, she argued: “Any ‘nutrient’ synthetic additive that comes on the market would become fair game for organics, even those … produced in ways that would shock any organic consumer [she cites nanotechnology and genetic engineering].
“Organic consumers should have the freedom to buy organic foods that are produced in accordance to strict standards… By allowing any conventional nutrient in organics, innovation in organics will come to a halt... and future innovators will have no reason to even consider developing organic nutrient materials."
USDA’s National Organic Program last year asked NOSB to re-evaluate recommendations it drew up in 1995 on nutrient vitamins and minerals used in organic products.
It also called for a review of the decision to allow ‘accessory nutrients’ - synthetic substances ‘not specifically classified as a vitamin or a mineral but found to promote optimum health’ - for inclusion on the list of permitted substances with which organic foods could be fortified.
The proposed recommendation is available here .