USDA prepares final organic ingredient rule

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Organic food

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is calling on organic food
producers to comment on the proposed list of ingredients permitted
for use in organic products, before the publication of a final
rule.

The agency's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) on June 21 published its interim final rule amending the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List). According to USDA, organic producers and handlers until recently may have misinterpreted regulations to mean 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. The new rule proposes the addition of 38 non-organic ingredients - including colors, starches and oils - to the list. These are currently being used in organic food production due to the industry misinterpretation. Their addition to the list would prevent disruption to business following a National Organic Program regulation, which came into effect June 9. This regulation clarified that only ingredients appearing in the National List are permitted for use in organic products, which means that, technically, organic products containing these non-organic minor ingredients are now officially in non-compliance with US government organic certifications. However, AMS is extending its comment period on the interim final rule by 60 days in order to allow for the continued use of these 38 substances until the final rulemaking, thereby minimizing the impact on the organic industry. The agency also said the extended comment period would allow for more responses from processors and handlers, which would be "helpful in developing a final rule". ​ Out of the 1,250 comments received so far, "very few"​ were from this segment, said AMS. Based upon USDA's Economic Research Service and AMS data compiled from 2001 to 2005, the US organic industry at the end of 2005 included nearly 8,500 certified organic crop and livestock operations, plus more than 2,900 handling operations. Organic crop and livestock operations reported certified acreage totaling more than 4.05 million acres of organic farm production. Total number of organic crop and livestock operations increased by more than 18 percent from 2001 to 2005, while total certified acreage more than doubled during this time period. AMS estimates that these trends continued through 2006 and will be higher in 2007. US sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1bn in 1990 to nearly $17bn in 2006. Organic food sales are projected to reach $23.8bn for 2010. The organic industry is viewed as the fastest growing sector of agriculture, currently representing nearly 3 percent of overall food and beverage sales. Since 1990, organic retail sales have historically demonstrated a growth rate between 20 to 24 percent each year including a 22 percent increase in 2006. The proposed final rule 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. To view USDA's Interim final rule with requests for comments, click here​. To view a list of USDA accredited organic certifying agents, click here​.

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