The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042

New Administration at USDA Steps Up to End Organic Corruption

Industry Watchdog / Washington Post Investigation Brings Down Old Leadership


In a strong departure from
Bush-era policy, the USDA's National Organic Program released a memo
banning synthetic "accessory nutrients" - ending a scandal that
brought down its former organic leadership.

At issue were some of the nation's leading
manufacturers of infant
formula that had been illegally adding synthetic forms of omega-3 and
oils to their organic products after a sweetheart deal between a
industry lobbyist and Dr. Barbara Robinson, the former head of the
organic program-exposed by a 2009 investigative report in the Washington Post.

Documents obtained through the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA), by
The Cornucopia Institute and shared with the Washington
, indicated that Robinson, after meeting with Jay
Friedman, a
lawyer and lobbyist with the powerful Washington law firm of Covington
rescinded a ruling made by USDA career civil servants who found the
of synthetic oils in organic infant formula to be illegal.

"Justice prevailed in this matter but it took a
change in the
administration in Washington
to make this happen," said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia

Problems and improprieties at the National
Organic Program, during the
Bush administration, were also profiled in a recently released audit
from the
USDA's Inspector General's office.

Cornucopia, an organic industry watchdog, first
investigated the use of
these "novel" nutritional oils, derived from soil fungus and algae,
in infant formula, because they are extracted using a neurotoxic
hexane, which is explicitly banned in organic production. "We
couldn't understand why the USDA was allowing this to happen," Kastel

Congress passed the Organic Foods Production
Act, as part of the 1990
farm bill, charging the USDA with defending the interests of ethical
participants and protecting organic consumers against fraud.

Cornucopia researchers were shocked when they
started investigating the
DHA/ARA oils, manufactured by Martek Biosciences Corporation, Columbia,
and found they were implicated by parents and healthcare professionals
severe and chronic health problems in infants around the country.

"Organics should be the last bastion of pure,
natural and
unadulterated food for consumers," said Charlotte Vallaeys, lead author
Cornucopia's report, Replacing
Mother --
Imitating Human Breast Milk in the Laboratory:

Through a separate FOIA request to the FDA,
Cornucopia learned that
there was an apparent correlation between the use of Martek's
nutritional oils
and severe gastrointestinal problems sometimes resulting in
testing procedures and hospitalizations.

"Based on FDA adverse reaction reports, we
discovered that many
parents, physicians and healthcare practitioners found that chronic
with infants, often resulting in 'failure to thrive,' acute
dehydration (caused by dangerous diarrhea/vomiting) and severe emotional
on the babies and their families, were often immediately resolved when
switching to formula without DHA/ARA supplementation," stated Vallaeys.

After learning about the health problems,
Cornucopia immediately
stepped up its legal efforts at the USDA to remove Martek's oils not
from organic infant formula, but also from organic baby food and organic
manufactured by the nation's leading brand, Horizon, owned by the dairy
Dean Foods.

"It's concerning enough that these Martek oils
are being
widely introduced in the marketplace, in both organic and conventional
products, but there is no authoritative research that suggests they
benefit children's development, as is claimed by the industry," said
Marsha Walker, RN, IBCLC, Executive Director of the National Alliance
Breastfeeding Advocacy.

Infant formula manufacturers like Enfamil (Mead
Johnson) promote their
products as being "our closest formula to breast milk," and
research indicates such advertisements might have discouraged some women
breastfeeding, which is universally recognized as being superior to
formula in
numerous ways, including for the health and development of babies.

"This seems to be a crass marketing gimmick,
using our children as
guinea pigs to enhance the bottom line at the major pharmaceutical
that manufacture infant formula," lamented Kastel. "The fact
that this material is being illegally added to certified organic formula
highly repugnant and left mothers, who could not breastfeed for whatever
reason, with few alternatives in the marketplace."

Over the past few years, infant formula
manufacturers have raised their
prices after adding Martek oils to their products. With the exception
some prescription formulas, available with approval from pediatricians,
one over-the-counter formula is available without synthetic DHA/ARA, Baby's Only, an organic product
manufactured by Nature's One in Columbus,

"After today's official announcement by the
USDA, all other
organic formula manufacturers will need to remove Martek's oils from
their products," Cornucopia's Vallaeys stated.

In the meantime, The Cornucopia Institute also
has filed petitions with
the FDA requesting that their Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)
for the Martek oils be revoked.

"When Martek's additives were originally
granted GRAS
status, it was with extreme reservations on the part of the FDA review
because of adverse reactions to these oils" said Valleys.
"When we reviewed FOIA documents, we were astonished to find that none
of the
infant formula manufacturers had complied with the FDA's request to
monitor adverse reactions and perform post-market surveillance of these

Like baking soda or any other synthetic
ingredient that manufacturers
would like to use in organic products, Martek and the infant formula
manufacturers who would like to use synthetic DHA/ARA oils will now be
to petition the National Organic Standards Board for a safety review.
Cornucopia projects an aggressive lobbying fight with public interest
and powerful manufacturers once again squaring off.

"We have to say we are continuing to be
impressed by the ethical
turnaround at the USDA, in their oversight of the organic industry,
since the
new administration took control in Washington and Secretary Vilsack
members of the organic community that he would appoint leadership who
'shares our values," Kastel affirmed.

According to The Cornucopia Institute, widely
recognized as one of the
industry's most aggressive independent watchdogs, organic consumers have
reason to feel more confident every day in the integrity of the USDA

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.