Cornucopia calls omega-3 fatty acid approval improper
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Organic industry advocate Cornucopia Institute has filed a complaint with USDA alleging Dean Foods' newest organic product violates federal law prohibiting unauthorized synthetic additives in organic products.
Dean's Horizon Fat-Free Milk Plus DHA Omega-3, as well as some of its staple products, contain algae-based omega-3, which Cornucopia contends is illegal in organic foods.
Docosahexaenoic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that is important for brain development. It is found in cold water fatty fish and fish oil supplements, with vegetarian sources derived from seaweed.
"USDA has not banned the use of plant-based DHA in organic milk, nor has it questioned the safety or efficacy of the ingredient," said Sara Loveday, Dean Foods' communications manager. "Our Horizon Organic Plus DHA Omega-3 products are certified organic, and have been since their inception."
Cornucopia contends federal regulators issued a statement confirming that adding synthetic oils, such as DHA omega-3, violates the Organic Food Production Act.
The USDA's National Organic Program said the substance isn't prohibited under current rules.
"To say there was an official rule is not accurate," NOP spokesman Soo Kim said.
NOP announced last April that it was requesting the re-evaluation of accessory nutrients under the permitted nutrient vitamins and minerals recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board, she said.
"Companies can still operate under previous guidelines," which allow DHA omega-3, she said. The board is working on the issue now, and a draft guidance, followed by a public comment period, is expected this year, she said.
Mark Kastel, co-director of Cornucopia, said the additive was improperly approved by a former NOP manager who overruled her own staff's findings that DHA omega-3 violated federal organic standards and should be banned from organic products.
In answering a 2006 complaint that those fatty acids were being added to infant formula and other organic products, NOP stated they were allowed in organic foods because nutrients may be added to foods if FDA permits their use as nutrients that are "generally recognized as safe."
On Aug. 27, 2010, however, the Obama administration banned the use of DHA omega-3 and ARA omega-6 from certified organic infant formulas and baby foods because they have not received legal approval for use in organic products.
A day earlier, NOP Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy, in a memorandum to the chairman of the National Organic Standards Board, acknowledged NOP's previous interpretation of FDA's fortification code was incorrect and requested the re-evaluation.
McEvoy also acknowledged that many certifiers and certified operations had made decisions based on NOP's "incorrect interpretation" and noted companies or interest groups could petition to add substances to the approved list of ingredients during the transition period.
"We worked with Martek, who produces our plant-based DHA, to follow the correct process for filing a petition with the USDA to maintain plant-based DHA omega-3 as an additive to organic milk," Loveday said.
USDA accepted the petition, and it is now being evaluated, she said.
Dean Foods: www.deanfoods.com
Cornucopia Institute: www.cornucopia.org