For Immediate Release
Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042
Organic Watchdog Asks USDA to Overturn Bush-Era Shenanigans
Synthetics in Infant Formula Apparently Making Babies Sick
Cornucopia, WI - For
years, the USDA's National Organic Program has failed to enforce federal
organic standards that prohibit the use of certain unapproved synthetic
substances in organic infant formula and other organic foods. The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based food and
farm policy research group, is taking action to rein in the practice with the re-filing
of a formal
legal complaint with the USDA calling for the removal of the additives from
organic infant formula.
The additives, DHA and ARA, are nutritional oils grown from fermented
algae and soil fungus, and are being added to most conventional as well as
organic formula brands. They have been linked to serious illness in some
"Consumers rightfully expect organic foods to be purer and safer
than conventional foods-in part because federal regulations require that
they be free from potentially harmful synthetic additives," says Charlotte Vallaeys, Farm and Food Policy Analyst
with The Cornucopia Institute, a
non-profit farm and food research group. "But in the case of the
synthetic, chemically extracted additives DHA and ARA, the system of federal regulations ensuring
organic integrity was undermined by corporate lobbying and backroom deals
during the Bush Administration."
Cornucopia's initial research, and a related investigation by the
Washington Post, revealed that
career regulatory staff at the National Organic Program (NOP) initially
determined the addition of DHA and ARA to organic infant formula was illegal,
but were overruled by the former Director of the program, Dr. Barbara Robinson,
who has since been replaced as head of the NOP.
And, a recently completed investigation and report by the Office of
Inspector General at the USDA was harshly critical of Dr. Robinson during her
tenure overseeing the organic program.
Freedom of Information Act documents obtained by Cornucopia revealed
that Robinson ordered her staff to misinterpret the organic
standards-substituting an informal recommendation for an official
rule-after she had been in contact with a prominent lobbyist working for
the infant formula industry.
"I called [Robinson] up," William J. Friedman, a lawyer and
lobbyist with the powerful Washington firm of Covington and Burling
told the Washington Post. "I
wrote an e-mail. It was a simple matter." The back-and-forth, he said,
was nothing more than part of the routine process that sets policy in Washington.
The nutritional additives, produced by Martek Bioscience Corporation,
are chemically extracted from fermented algae and soil fungus, using hexane, a
petroleum-based solvent explicitly banned in organic production, before being
added to infant formula. Parents have linked their infant's
suffering-severe diarrhea, vomiting, and other reactions that sometimes
required hospitalization-to these synthetic additives. When switching
their babies to organic formula without these additives, these parents noticed the
chronic symptoms would vanish, sometimes literally overnight.
"Within 24 hours of switching to formula without DHA and ARA, we
had a brand new, entirely different baby. She had no abdominal distress, she
smiled and played ... and for the first time ever we heard her
laugh," says Karen Jensen, whose baby suffered severe gastrointestinal
symptoms from formula with these synthetic additives.
Infant formula makers claim that adding DHA and ARA to formula improves
brain and eye development. However, two recently published comprehensive
scientific review studies on the topic both substantiate Cornucopia's
findings that challenge these claims. These two meta-analysis studies
collectively consider the results of 18 clinical trials, and conclude there are
no proven benefits to DHA/ARA supplementation in infant formula.
Given reports of infants getting sick from these additives, and
comprehensive scientific data showing there are no proven benefits to adding
DHA and ARA to infant formula, The Cornucopia
Institute has re-filed a formal legal complaint with the
USDA's National Organic Program to enforce the organic standards, which
currently do not allow synthetic oils such as Martek's DHA and ARA.
"With new management in place at the USDA and the National
Organic Program, which has proclaimed we have entered the ‘age of
enforcement,' we are hopeful that the organic standards will finally be
earnestly enforced," says Mark Kastel, Cornucopia's co-director.
In addition to organic brands of infant formula, such as Earth's Best,
Similac and Wal-Mart's Parent's Choice, some brands of organic baby
food and Horizon milk are also being supplemented with the novel oils, that
have never been part of the human diet.
Besides for the prohibition of hexane as a processing agent in organic
food, non-agricultural synthetic additives of this nature are required to be
reviewed by the National Organic Standards Board prior to inclusion in organic
products. According to Cornucopia, a formal review of Martek's additives
has never taken place.
A lawyer for The Cornucopia Institute,
Gary Cox, was also quoted in the Washington
Post, in response to Robinson's actions, "This is illegal
rulemaking-a complete violation of the process that is supposed to
protect the public."
Concerned parents can find at least one brand of organic formula,
Baby's Only, that is made without Martek's synthetic DHA/ARA oils.
It is available at most of the nation's consumer-owned food cooperatives,
many specialty stores like Whole Foods, and online. In addition, some
conventional prescription formulas are available without the supplements
Parents who think their babies have suffered adverse reactions to DHA
and ARA in infant formula are encouraged to contact The Cornucopia
Institute or the FDA directly.
"Mothers and fathers who pick a can of organic infant formula
from a store shelf should be able to trust the "USDA Organic"
label. They should not have to check ingredients lists to ensure the product
is truly free from unapproved additives," says Vallaeys.
The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit. Their web page can be viewed at www.cornucopia.org.