Rogue USDA Allows Chemicals in ‘Organic’ Baby Formula

Posted on Mar 7, 2013 in Health & Wellness, Health Optimization

No cheap trick is too low for the rogue USDA to stoop in support of Agribusiness, even if it means the utter destruction of the term organic in the US. Even ‘organic’ baby formula can contain synthetic ingredients.

 

If you think that the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) “organic” label holds any meaning, please think again. It does not. The Cornucopia Institute has produced a damning report documenting collusion between the USDA and the corporations it supposedly regulates in the organic foods industry. The problem is so severe that baby formula labeled as USDA certified organic has been found to contain two synthetic preservatives, which are banned by the The Organic Foods Production Act passed by Congress in 1990.

The preservatives are synthetic beta carotene and ascorbyl palmitate, both of which are used to prevent oxidation and rancidity. Both of these are illegal for use in organic foods. The Director of Farm and Food Policy at the Cornucopia Institute, Charlotte Vallaeys, states:

This is not the first time that the pharmaceutical companies and agribusinesses, that manufacture infant formula, have quietly added to organic formula the same synthetic ingredients that they use in their conventional versions without first seeking the legally required approval for use in organics.

Cornucopia states that more than a dozen such synthetics have been added to baby formulas over the last five years, and they have filed several complaints about it to the USDA. These include complaints about the addition of DHA and ARA oils, which require the addition of the illegal synthetic preservatives, by Royal DSM’s subsidiary, Martek. They state that scientific research has shown that the oils do not benefit infant development and that severe gastrointestinal symptoms have developed in babies that had been fed the formula with the added oils, though they’d had no trouble before their addition.

Apparently, the USDA has let Martek get away with breaking the organic standard that bans the use of any synthetic ingredient if its primary purpose is to act as a preservative. Now the International Formula Council is petitioning the USDA to officially legalize synthetic beta carotene and ascorbyl palmitate in organics by relabeling their functions as “antioxidants” to “prevent undesirable oxidation” and “prevent rancidity”. Of course, this terminology is nothing but an end-run around the term “preservative”. It’s obvious that an agent used to prevent rancidity is a preservative.

Cornucopia has asked the USDA to investigate Quality Assurance International (QAI), the organic certifying agent used by the formula manufacturers. Cornucopia states that QAI:

… has come under fire in the past for certifying organic livestock operations that failed to meet the organic standards for animal welfare and outdoor access.  QAI has also allowed its clients to add a number of other allegedly illegal synthetic ingredients to organic food and livestock feed.

Cornucopia’s term for QAI is “the corporate certifier of convenience”.

 

How This Abuse Is Done

Cornucopia has produced The Organic Watergate—White Paper, Connecting the Dots: Corporate Influence at the USDA’s National Organic Program. As its name implies, it discusses how the USDA has subverted the intent of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). The OFPA set up the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), giving it statutory authority, meaning that it’s authorized to enforce the law. It also recommends policy and modifications to organic agriculture law.

Originally, it was set up so that the majority of its 15 seats would be held by organic farmers, consumers, scientists and environmentalists—specifically so that Agribusiness would not be able to take control. Sadly, though, through collusion with the USDA, that’s just what now exists. As the paper states, the USDA has stacked the NOSB board with Agribusiness representatives, in spite of it being illegal to do so.

According to the OFPA, the members of the NOSB must include the following 15 members:

  •  Four people who own or operate an organic farming operation.
  • Two people who own or operate an organic handling operation.
  • One person who owns or operates a retail establishment with significant trade in organic products.
  • Three people with expertise in environmental protection and resource conservation.
  • Thee people who represent public interest or consumer interest groups.
  • One person with expertise in toxicology, ecology, or biochemistry.
  • One person who is an organic certifying agent.

Cornucopia offers the following examples of people who filled slots on the NOSB:

  • Jean Afterman (environmentalist slot): She was vice president for PurePak, Inc.
  • Carmela Beck (farmer slot): Manages organic certification for Driscoll’s, which produces both conventional and (USDA-style) organic foods. She is not a farmer of any sort.
  • Gerald Davis (farm slot): Agronomist at Grimmway Farms, one of the world’s largest carrot producers. He is not a farmer.
  • Kristina “Tina” Ellor (environmentalist slot): Employee of Phillips’ Mushrooms, which produces primarily conventional mushrooms. She is not an environmentalist.
  • William J. Friedman (environmentalist slot): At the time was a New Mexico state government bureaucrat, now is a government litigation attorney with Covington and Burling, a powerful Washington law firm.
  • Wendy Fulwider (farmer slot): Animal husbandry specialist for Organic Valley, an Agribusiness cooperative.
  • Dan Giacomini (consumer/public interest slot): Nutritionist/feed consultant for the livestock industry. While on NOSB, he was a feed consultant to Strauss Dairy, which opposed stricter pasture enforcement.
  • Katrina Heinze (scientist slot, originally consumer affairs/public interest slot): Manager of General Mills’ Global Regulatory Affairs. She is not qualified for either slot she’s filled.
  • Tracy Miedema (consumer/public interest slot): She worked for several Agribusiness-style companies, which produced both USDA-style organics and conventional foods. She was never even close to being in a consumer affairs or public interest organization.
  • Kevin O’Rell (farmer slot): President of Horizon, a dairy operation that manages to qualify as organic under USDA rules, in spite of breaking the rules on a massive scale, such as operating a 10,000 cow feedlot operation with no pasture.

When the NOSB addressed the issue of Martek’s oils, Tracy Miedema was the chair. The board post she filled had been set aside to be filled only by a member of a consumer or public service organization, a position she had never held. The USDA literally broke the law by placing her in that position. Miedema used it to steamroller approval for Martek’s poisons in organic foods.

Major Agribusiness firms have had representatives on NOSB, including Campbell’s, PurePak, General Mills, Purina, and Smucker’s.

The NOSB was supposed to hold members who were taken from the organic food concerns, not Agribusiness. Its purpose was to act as a balance against Agribusiness. Instead, it has acted as their agent.

How are NOSB members selected? Simple: The USDA appoints them. Clearly, the USDA has never had any intention of operating a genuine organic food agency. Not ever. The NOSB is used by the USDA to subvert the USDA organic label, to assure that it operates for the benefit of Agribusiness rather than the people.

Stacking the Deck Against Real Organics

In the fall of 2011, the NOSB held a meeting that discussed approval of Martek’s DHA and ARA oils. The rules for speaking were arbitrarily changed, so that members of the public and organics organizations were given less time to speak.

Over 15,500 hand-signed letters in opposition to Martek’s oils, all delivered through the mail, not merely signed online, were delivered and completely ignored. The voice of the people was not wanted.

Although disparaging remarks against individuals and organizations are against NOSB rules, Ed Zimba, who spoke on behalf of Martek’s oils, went on a diatribe against the Cornucopia Institute and was not stopped. Miedema had always previously enforced the rule against such digressions, but allowed it to continue.

The Organic Watergate summarizes the scene at that meeting:

By arranging for the presence of farmers at the meeting, Dean Foods/WhiteWave succeeded in shifting the attention away from the multibillion-dollar corporate nature of the petitioners, and created the impression that organic family farmers like Zimba and Clutts desperately needed the approval of the petition to stay in the organic business.

Meanwhile, thousands of organic farmers and consumers had sent letters to the NOSB, urging them to reject the Martek petitions. But, without a corporation to pay their airfare to Savannah, these farmers and consumers did not appear in person and could only hope that their letters, along with thousands of others, could sway the Board. They obviously didn’t.

With regard to the science presented in regard to Martek’s oils, the report states:

Every scientist who testified at the NOSB meeting had a financial interest in the outcome of the vote. Their presentation of science at the meeting had only one goal: to convince the Board members that their manufactured algal and fungal oils are beneficial and essential. This is not a sound use of science.

In general, the NOSB’s approach to whether Martek’s oils should be used in organic products was to ignore the voices of consumers and public interest groups. They ignored studies that showed risks associated with the oils in favor of industry-supported pseudo science. They ignored studies showing that knowledgeable organics consumers overwhelmingly preferred naturally-derived omega-3 oils over Martek’s synthetics. They ignored the fact that many of the pro-Martek speakers did not admit their associations with the company and other Agribusiness corporations.

And they allowed outright lies about the products involved to be told to the non-corporate-owned board members:

During public testimony, Cornucopia’s Charlotte Vallaeys had brought a can of the
Happybellies cereal containing the algal oil powder to the podium and passed it
around the Board members to see the ingredients list for themselves. Some Board
members were clearly concerned, and wanted to clarify whether they would be
voting on the powdered form of algal oil that is found in this product. When Board
member Nick Maravell asked the question to a Martek executive, their lobbyist,
Friedman, waltzed up to the podium and responded that he could answer the
question, saying, “That is not the petitioned material.”

Miedema then repeated: “So for the record, the material that was passed around to
the Board yesterday is not anything – it’s not part of the pending matters of this
Board or any of our proceedings.”

Yet the official Martek petition had stated that it petitioned all DHA products that
“had been authorized previously” by the USDA, meaning any Martek DHA ingredient
currently in certified organic products. Clearly, the algal oil powder in the
Happybellies product was part of the official petition.

Furthermore, the Martek petition clearly stated that powdered and liquid forms of
their products were both being presented for approval.

In other words, any technique, including outright lying, was used by the NOSB’s corporate-controlled members.

It should be no surprise the the NOSB ruled in favor of including Martek’s synthetic oils in products, including “organic” baby formula.

Adulterated “Organic” Products

Many products carrying the USDA organic label now include the clearly nonorganic synthetic Martek oils. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Horizon Organic (fluid organic milk with DHA)
  • Abbott Laboratories (Similac organic infant formula with DHA and ARA)
  • Earth’s Best (Hain Celestial)
  • PBM Products (Ultra Bright Beginnings organic with DHA and ARA; Parent’s Choice
    organic with DHA and ARA, Earth’s Best with DHA and ARA)
  • Nurture, Inc. (Happy Baby Organic baby food with DHA)
  • Stremicks Heritage Foods (fluid organic milk with DHA)
  • NuGo Nutrition (NuGo Nutrition Bars)

Some of the pseudo organic baby formulas include false claims of benefits from DHA and ARA synthetic oils, such as this from Enfamil baby formula:

Enfamil PREMIUM is clinically proven to result in IQ scores that are similar to those of breastfed infants.

According to Cornucopia, this is based on a single unduplicated study performed by a team of scientists sponsored by Mead Johnson, Enfamil’s manufacturer. In contrast to this, there have been approximately a dozen trials that have come to the opposite conclusion, including studies funded by baby formula manufacturer Abbott Laboratories.

Of course, the FDA allows these false labels, since they support both Agribusiness and Big Pharma corporations.

What You can Do

Cornucopia Institute has a letter that they’re asking you to download, sign, and mail to them. They will present these to the USDA to ask for reconsideration of their approval for Martek’s oils. Yes, of course it’s a bit more trouble than simply signing an online petition, but delivery of thousands of real letters may have an impact that online petitions cannot approach. Please join them in protesting the destruction of the term USDA Organic by going to Breaking Scandal: The Organic Watergate to download the letter.

Sources: by Heidi Stevenson – gaia-health