Thank You!
Search OCA:
Get Local!

Find Local News, Events & Green Businesses on OCA's State Pages:

OCA News Sections

Organic Consumers Association

GMO Ingredients in Organic Baby Food?

  • By Alexis Baden-Mayer, Esq., Political Director
    Organic Consumers Association, November 30, 2011
    Straight to the Source

Martek Biosciences claims that its Life'sDHA and Life'sARA are non-GMO (see below), but their patents reveal that their DHA and ARA are produced through the use of genetic engineering.

Hundreds of grocery items, including many certified "USDA Organic" infant formulas, baby foods and dairy products, contain Life'sDHA and Life'sARA.

Here's the evidence, from Martek's patents, that they are GMO.

From Martek's DHA Patent 5407957:

"Any microorganisms capable of producing a single-cell edible oil containing DHA can be used in the present invention. For example, photosynthetic diatoms can be used. Preferred microorganisms are marine dinoflagellates, including Crypthecodinium sp. Especially preferred is Crypthecodinium cohnii, an obligate heterotroph requiring a reduced carbon source for growth. C. cohniiis preferred because it contains a fatty acid profile in which DHA is the only PUFA present in sufficient quantities (greater than about 1% of the total amount of PUFAs). Samples of this organism, designated MK8840, have been deposited with the American Type Culture Collection at Rockville, Maryland, and assigned accession number 40750. As used herein, microorganism, or any specific type of microorganism, includes wild strains, mutants or recombinant types. Any microorganism which produces enhanced levels of oil containing DHA is considered to be within the scope of this invention. One of the features of the present invention is its recognition of the edible oil-producing capability of microorganisms such as dinoflagellates and the attendant solution to the problem of maintaining a reliable, economic source of such oils. Accordingly, wild-type and recombinant microorganisms designed to produce single cell oil containing DHA are an aspect of this invention. Such recombinant organisms would include those designed to produce greater quantities of DHA in the single cell oil, greater quantities of total oil, or both, as compared to the quantities produced by the same wild type microorganism, when provided with the same substrates. Also included would be microorganisms designed to efficiently use more cost-effective substrates while producing the same amount of single cell oil containing DHA as the comparable wild-type microorganism."

From Martek's DHA Patent 5492938:

"Any microorganisms capable of producing a single-cell edible oil containing DHA can be used in the present invention. For example, photosynthetic diatoms can be used. Preferred microorganisms are marine dinoflagellates, including Crypthecodinium sp. Especially preferred, is Crypthecodinium cohnii, an obligate heterotroph requiring a reduced carbon source for growth. C. cohnii is preferred because it contains a fatty acid profile in which DHA is the only PUFA present in sufficient quantities (greater than about 1% of the total amount of PUFAs). Samples of this organism, designated MK8840, have been deposited with the American Type Culture Collection at Rockville, Md., and assigned accession number 40750. As used herein, microorganism, or any specific type of microorganism, includes wild strains, mutants or recombinant types. Any microorganism which produces enhanced levels of oil containing DHA is considered to be within the scope of this invention. One of the features of the present invention is its recognition of the edible oil-producing capability of microorganisms such as dinoflagellates and the attendant solution to the problem of maintaining a reliable, economic source of such oils. Accordingly, wild-type and recombinant microorganisms designed to produce single cell oil containing DHA are an aspect of this invention. Such recombinant organisms would include those designed to produce greater quantities of DHA in the single cell oil, greater quantities of total oil, or both, as compared to the quantities produced by the same wild type microorganism, when provided with the same substrates. Also included would be microorganisms designed to efficiently use more cost-effective substrates while producing the same amount of single cell oil containing DHA as the comparable wild-type microorganism."

From Martek's ARA Patent 6749849:


"It is within the scope of the present invention that, in addition to known strains of Mortierella sect. schmuckeri, such as those on deposit with the American Type Culture Collection (e.g., ATCC), newly identified strains from nature and mutant strains derived from known or newly identified strains, can be used to produce arachidonic acid. Naturally-occurring mutants of a parental strain of Mortierella sect. schmuckeri that are capable of producing arachidonic acid can be isolated by, for example, subjecting a parental strain to at least one round of chemical or physical mutagenesis in order to increase the rate of mutagenesis, thereby increasing the probability of obtaining a microorganism producing increased amounts of arachidonic acid. It will be obvious to one skilled in the art that mutant microorganisms of the present invention also include arachidonic acid-producing microorganisms that can be obtained by genetically-engineering microorganisms to produce increased amounts of arachidonic acid. For example, it is within the purview of the present invention to transform Mortierella sect. schmuckeri microorganisms with nucleic acid molecules encoding enzymes of the arachidonic acid biosynthetic pathway obtained from fungal arachidonic acid-producing microorganisms, such as those of the genus Mortierella sect. schmuckeri. A Mortierella sect. schmuckeri nucleic acid molecule of the present invention can be obtained from its natural source either as an entire (i.e., complete) gene or a portion thereof capable of forming a stable hybrid with the entire gene. A nucleic acid molecule from a strain of Mortierella sect. schmuckeri can also be produced using recombinant DNA technology (e.g., polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification, cloning) or chemical synthesis. As used herein, a "mutated microorganism" is a mutated parental microorganism in which the nucleotide composition of such microorganism has been modifie d by mutation(s) that occur naturally, that are the result of exposure to a mutagen, or that are the result of genetic engineering." 

More Martek AHA Patents with the same or similar language on GMOs: 7666657, 71210986, 26852272, 26042879, 25762976, 25504205, and 25101220.


Martek's Non-GMO Claims:

"Martek manufactures its DHA from microalgae that is not a genetically modified organism." 

OCA's Concern: If the microalgae they start with is non-GMO, our concern is that Martek's DHA manufacturing process includes genetic modification.

"Additionally, Martek procures all ingredients used in its production process that are in compliance with EC/1829/2003 and EC/1830/2003 requirements for non-GMO material. EC/1829/2003 and EC/1830/2003 are Genetically Modified Food and Feed Regulations of the European Community." 

OCA's Concern: Again, if the ingredients they use are non-GMO, our concern is that Martek's production process includes genetic modification.

While investigating this issue, OCA learned that the European Union considers Martek's DHA a "complex novel food from a non-gm source." But, European law exempts certain techniques of genetic modification from its definition of a GMO:

"Techniques of genetic modification to be excluded from this Directive, on condition that they do not involve the use of GMOs as recipient or parental organisms, are:

(1) mutagenesis,

(2) cell fusion (including protoplast fusion) of plant cells where the resulting organisms can also be produced by traditional breeding methods."

In contrast, the National Organic Program regulations state:

"Excluded methods. A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production. Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology). Such methods do not include the use of traditional breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, or tissue culture."

If Martek is producing its DHA through mutagenesis or cell fusion, as its patents suggest, it should be excluded from organic.

In addition, the Cornucopia Institute has found evidence that Martek's DHA and ARA products are microencapsulated. Martek is working with GAT Food Essentials and General Mills (represented on the National Organic Standards Board by Katrina Heinze) to microencapsulate their DHA and ARA. As microencapsulation is excluded from organic, this is another reason to exclude Martek's DHA and ARA.

"Martek does use domestic corn-based nutrients in the DHA production process to facilitate fermentation that may be sourced from a GM corn plant given the prevalence of GM corn in the U.S. market, but the use of GM ingredients during the fermentation process does not alter the genetic makeup of the algae, and Martek's DHA product is not GM and contains no GM material."

OCA's Concern: GMOs are excluded from organic, therefore, if Martek uses GM corn in its DHA production process, its DHA should be excluded from organic.

For more information on this topic or related issues you can search the thousands of archived articles on the OCA website using keywords: