A recent article in the Washington Post raised concerns over the integrity of the organic label on foods today ... particularly as it relates to infant baby formula. According to the article, when the staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture reviewed the organic certification of infant baby formula, they determined that synthetic additives in organic baby formula violated federal standards and should be banned from a product carrying the federal organic label. Yet today, those same additives can be found in 90 percent of organic baby formula.

The additives in question are DHA and ARA, two synthetic fatty acids that some studies suggest can help a baby's neural development. But according to USDA records, when the issue of including these synthetics in organic infant formulas came before the agency in 2006, staff members concluded that the fatty acids could not be added to organic baby formula because they are synthetics that are not on the standards board's approved list.

But according to the Post article, this decision was overruled by Barbara Robinson, a deputy USDA administrator who administers the agency's organics program.  Apparently, Robinson made this decision after a telephone call and an e-mail exchange with William J. Friedman, a lawyer who represents the formula makers, claiming in an interview that she agreed with Friedman's argument that fatty acids were not permitted because of an "oversight."

However many organic advocates (myself included) beg to differ.  The fatty acids (DHA and ARA) in baby formula are often produced using a potential neurotoxin known as hexane.  That's likley one of the reasons that these two synthetics never made the OK list.  And isn't the whole point of the organic certification to assure consumers that unapproved synthetics are not allowed in products bearing the organic label?  If that's no longer the case, then I guess that black and white USDA certified organic label is no longer as black and white as it appears to be.  

Photo: rrss

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Organic baby formula

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