Any parent who shops for groceries has seen the labels: “Fortified with vitamin D!” “Now with added DHA!” And any parent trying to raise a healthy child knows how important vitamins and nutrients are. But what does it mean to add vitamins to foods—is that natural?
As part of public health policy, manufacturers often add vitamins and trace minerals the human body can’t make on its own to dairy, soy, cereal, juice, flour, salt, and nut butters. Folic acid, for example, is added to flour, cereal, and bread products, because a deficiency of this vitamin is linked to neural tube defects. When it comes to organic food, though, some other issues arise. For instance, if an organic food isn’t fortified, will people choose conventional to get the vitamins? Will consumers turn away from the benefits of organic in order to get the benefits of vitamin D?
Then there’s the issue of the additive itself: If it isn’t grown organically, can the product still be called organic? The answer is often yes: Organic food is allowed to be fortified, and in most instances, up to five percent of a product can include nonorganic ingredients (including synthetic additives) and still earn the USDA’s organic label. This fall, the National Organic Standards Board (which oversees organic labeling standards) is holding a discussion about additives in organic products. In particular, they’ll look at DHA and ARA, fatty acids that aid brain and vision development that have recently been added to formula and milk products. That particular use of them isn’t covered by the FDA’s current fortification policy, which has raised concern among some activists.
A Wisconsin-based farm policy group called The Cornucopia Institute has filed two complaints with the USDA: one regarding DHA and ARA (both fatty acids that aid brain and eye development) in various brands of baby formula, and one regarding DHA in one of Horizon Organics’ milk products. Though both additives are Generally Recognized As Safe (an official designation, called GRAS) by the FDA, the rules governing the use of them in organic foods doesn’t apply to formula and milk. So, this fall, the NOP will be holding a discussion and a possible decision about this particular issue, as well as about additives in other organic products.
Horizon Organics put their point of view this way, in a statement to KIWI: “We believe people shouldn’t have to choose between the organic foods they want and fortified foods providing the health benefits they need. Organic milk and dairy products are commonly fortified with added vitamins and nutrients such as vitamins A, D, and DHA omega-3. Consumer demand for these organic products is strong and growing, because a large body of scientific evidence shows these products are safe and offer various health benefits.”
Meanwhile, Charlotte Vallaeys, Cornucopia’s director of farm and food policy Cornucopia says the group’s position is this: “Cornucopia believes organic food should be fortified if it’s part of the FDA’s official fortification policy. Calcium and vitamins A and D are all essential nutrients under FDA guidelines. But we do not consider synthetic DHA to be an essential ingredient, so the FDA needs to clarify the rule.”
KIWI and the Organic Trade Association surveyed readers and found:
- 73% either fully support or don’t mind organic fortification
- 47% said if an organic food were fortified, they’d be more likely to buy it. 42% said it wouldn’t affect their decision.
- The added nutrients that make readers more likely to buy an organic product are: healthy fats, calcium, antioxidants, probiotics, and vitamin D.
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