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USDA to Allow More Conventional Ingredients in Organics?

5/16/2007 - The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing to add a number of ingredients to the list of substances permitted for use in organic food products, in a move designed to prevent disruption to business when new regulations come into place next month.

The additional 38 proposed substances include non-organic colors, starches and oils, which may be used only when an organic counterpart is not available commercially.

The proposed amendments to USDA's National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List) are a result of recommendations submitted by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), based on petitions made by industry.

According to USDA, these substances are already being used in organic food production, due to a misinterpretation of current National List regulations. Until recently, organic producers and handlers may have thought that any non-organic agricultural substance could be used in organic products if this was determined unavailable in organic form by an accredited certifying agent.

However, in June last year, a final rule was published clarifying that only ingredients appearing in the National List are permitted for use in organic products.  The final order, which will become effective on June 9 2007, will mean that as of this date any products containing ingredients not specifically listed in the National List will be in non-compliance with organic certifications.

"Because these substances are critical to organic production and handling operations, producers and handlers should be able to use them in their operations as soon as possible," wrote the USDA in a notice published in the Federal Register yesterday.

"Loss of the use of any of these products would disrupt the trade of food products currently being labeled as 'organic'. Therefore, the continued allowed use of these products as ingredients in foods labeled as 'organic' is necessary to prevent possible significant business disruption for organic producers and handlers."

The agency has opened a 7-day comment period on the proposed modifications.  Comments must be received by May 22 2007.

The proposed rule would add the following substances to the National List:

Colors from annatto, beet juice, beta-carotene, black currant juice, black/purple carrot juice, blueberry juice, carrot juice, cherry juice, chokeberry-aronia juice, elderberry juice, grape juice, grape skin extract, paprika, pumpkin juice, purple potato juice, red cabbage extract, red radish extract, saffron, and turmeric.

In addition: casings from processed intestines (used as sheaths in the manufacture of sausages), celery powder (used to facilitate the natural curing process of meat), and chia (used to add fiber and omega-3 to baked goods and beverages.

Other ingredients include: dillweed oil, fish oil, fructooligosaccharides, frozen galangal, gelatin, water extracted Arabic, guar, locust bean, and carob bean gums, hops, oligofructose enriched inulin, kelp for use only as a thickener and dietary supplement, konjac flour, unbleached lecithin, frozen lemongrass, unbleached orange shellac, pectin, chipotle chile pepper, cornstarch, unmodified rice starch, sweet potato starch, Turkish bay leaves, Wakame seaweed, and whey protein concentrate.

To view the USDA Federal Register notice, click here.