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Organic Consumers Association

Organic Caucus Chair Rep. Farr Investigates GMOs in Organic Baby Food

  • By Alexis Baden-Mayer, Esq., Political Director
    Organic Consumers Association, December 16, 2011
    Straight to the Source

Members of Congress and National Organic Program officials are beginning to respond to letters from Organic Consumers Members raising the concern that Martek Biosciences' Life'sDHA and Life'sARA, found in many certified organic foods, including infant formulas and baby food, are genetically engineered.

In a response from Rep. Sam Farr, chair of the Congressional Organic Caucus, he confirms that "there is one strain of the DHA-producing algae that has been genetically engineered." He assures his constituents, "that is not the strain that was approved by the NOSB [National Organic Standards Board]." The problem is, he also says that the DHA approved by the NOSB is "not the kind used in infant formula and baby cereals." This begs the question, "Is the DHA used in organic infant formula and baby cereals from the strain of DHA-producing algae that has been genetically engineered?" I've made a request to Rep. Farr for more information and hope to have a reply to share with you shortly. Here's the full letter:
  • December 8, 2011
  • Dear [Constituent]:
  • Thank you for contacting my office regarding your concern of a petition submitted by Martek Biosciences for Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Algal Oil to be allowed as an ingredient in organic food regulated by the National Organic Program.
  • As the current Ranking Member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee in the House of Representatives and the original sponsor of the California Organic Food Act as an Assemblyman I support a strong and robust National Organic Program (NOP) based on the tenets of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).
  • I contacted USDA and learned the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has revisited its decision to have DHA approved for organic products. The NOSB voted on December 2nd to approve the continued use of plant-based DHA Omega-3 in organic food production used in milk and other beverages but not the kind used in infant formula and baby cereals. While the NOSB has the sole authority to recommend adding or removing substances from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (a list that includes what may and may not be used in organic crop and livestock production), the recommendations made by the NOSB are not official policy until they are approved and adopted by the USDA. This issue will now have to go through a rule making process and there will be a public notice and comment period before a final decision is made by USDA.
  • The NOSB revisited this issue because there was concern that the DHA was extracted with the use of hexane and also grown using genetic engineering techniques which are excluded from organic designation. While there is one strain of the DHA-producing algae that has been genetically engineered, that is not the strain that was approved by the NOSB. Any certifier who would allow DHA in milk would make sure there was a non-GMO declaration on it before approval.
  • You can be assured that I will continue to monitor the actions of USDA as well as the NOSB and follow this issue as it progresses.  If you have any further questions or I can be of assistance on another issue please do not hesitate to contact me.
  • Sincerely,
  • SAM FARR
  • Member of Congress


If you used our alert to take action, you probably received the following letter in response from Samuel Jones at the Agricultural Marketing Service, the USDA department that includes the National Organic Program (NOP). Mr. Jones claims that the NOSB was required to consider whether Martek's DHA and ARA were genetically engineered before approving the products as ingredients in organic foods. On the contrary, the NOSB assumed that the NOP was responsible for settling the GMO issue. During the meeting, NOSB Chair Tracey Miedema specifically addressed this question to NOP Director Miles McEvoy who admitted that the NOP had simply taken the Martek's word that its DHA and ARA were non-GMO without investigating the issue any further. Here's Mr. Jones' full letter:

  • ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    From: Jones, Samuel - AMS <Samuel.Jones@ams.usda.gov>
    Date: Fri, Dec 9, 2011 at 3:29 PM
    Subject: Use of GMOs Prohibited in Organic Agriculture
  • Thank you for your letter to USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service concerning DHA and ARA in organic processing.
  • As you may be aware, the National Organic Standards Board examined the substances earlier this month at a meeting in Savannah, Georgia, in response to petitions requesting to allow them in organic processing. As part of the materials evaluation criteria, the NOSB must consider, among other factors, how a substance is formulated or manufactured. This includes consideration of genetic engineering, which is expressly prohibited from being used when producing and handling products represented as organic. A webcast of their discussion is on the NOP website.
  • To protect the integrity of the USDA organic seal, we continue to uphold the standards and encourage adherence to specifically outlined criteria when evaluating materials. The National Organic Standards Board voted 10-4 to approve DHA and ARA to be allowed in organic food products with the following restrictions : all agricultural ingredients must be organic and DHA and ARA must not be hexane extracted.  The USDA organic regulations already prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms.  Recommendations made by the National Organic Standards Board are not official until they are approved and adopted by USDA. The NOP will review the NOSB final recommendations and take the necessary steps to implement their recommendations. To keep up to date on actions by the NOP and the NOSB, I encourage you to subscribe to the NOP Organic Insider or regularly visit www.ams.usda.gov/nop

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