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National List Not Spurring Innovation in Organic Ingredients

For related articles and more information please visit OCA's information page for All Things Organic and our Save Organic Standards campaign page.

The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances details non-agricultural ingredients that are allowed to be used as ingredients in foods labeled organic or made with organic ingredients, and is reviewed every five years. It includes carrageenan and agar agar (both from seaweed), animal enzymes, mined calcium sulfate, and glucono delta lactone, among others.

The original thinking behind the establishment of a National List was that it would allow a wide range of USDA certified organic foods to come to market without being restricted by scarcity of minor ingredients.

"The NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) and NOP (National Organic Program) assumed that handlers would benefit from a "market incentive" and inclusion in this section would "drive innovation" of organic alternatives," the paper's authors wrote. " The hope was that as the organic food industry grew, demand for these minor ingredients would also grow and organic options would become available."

However, this has not been the case. Even though the organic industry has greatly expanded since the implementation of the National Organic Program, only one ingredient - rice starch - has been completely removed from the National List.

"Collectively, the evidence of this study suggests that the current review and petition process is at best not supporting the development of organic alternatives and at worst may actually be an impediment," the authors wrote.

Their study examines the extent to which non-organically produced agricultural ingredients are used in organic foods, questioning whether the National List works in the way it was initially intended. The authors tapped into Mintel's Global New Products Database for 2008 and found 1,017 food and beverage launches containing organic ingredients. Of those, the researchers examined a final sample of 629 products with full ingredient information. 
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