Potter, who started his oral testimony by stating for the record that Eden Foods is not a member of the Organic Trade Association, told the board, "Organic food is supposed to be an alternative to industrialized food" and that he objects to "the greenwashing for more, easy, and cheap to produce, quasi-organic food." He then poignantly asked the Board: "Should organic food be better for large corporations, or better for the people?"
After learning about the scientific research pointing to carrageenan's serious human health impacts, Potter committed to removing carrageenan from the handful of Eden Foods products that currently contain it. This is in stark contrast to other companies, like Dean Foods (Horizon and Silk), Organic Valley, and Dannon (Stonyfield), which all sent representatives to the NOSB meeting to lobby for carrageenan's approval in organics.
In addition to carrageenan, the board approved synthetic inositol and choline, two nutraceuticals, for use in all infant formula. This was a controversial decision as well, since the FDA only requires that these synthetic nutrients be added to soy-based infant formula.
"These nutrients are found naturally in dairy-based formula and many foods. It's a risky gimmick to add their synthetic version to organic foods, which is the last refuge for parents seeking to avoid chemical additives and give truly natural food to their infants and children," said Cornucopia's Vallaeys.
The Cornucopia Institute has taken the official position that the NOSB, which is not a scientific panel, should leave decisions about required food fortification with synthetic nutrients to the FDA. At last fall's meeting, the NOSB approved the use of the controversial synthetic ingredients DHA and ARA, patented by Royal DSM/Martek Biosciences Corporation, for use in formula and other organic foods. Neither are recommended or required by the FDA.
"The organic regulations allow any nutrient required by the FDA to be added to organic food. The NOSB should not be listening to lobbyists from pharmaceutical companies and trade groups like the International Formula Council. They should leave scientifically based decisions about the essentiality of synthetic nutrients to the FDA," said Vallaeys.
"The decision to relist carrageenan, and to allow the synthetic nutrients choline and inositol for infant formula, prevailed by one vote," Kastel observed. "There is no doubt that if the board were legally constituted, with truly independent members instead of corporate imposters, the decisions would be radically different and the true values of the organic movement would be upheld."
While The Cornucopia Institute remains bullish on the organic label, it has published a series of studies and scorecards rating organic brands, to address the shortcuts some corporations are applying to organic production. These reports and scorecards empower consumers and wholesale buyers to make informed purchasing decisions. They can be found on the Cornucopia website.
"There is currently no alternative for consumers, who are seeking safe and nutritious food, other than direct, local marketing by farmers," concluded Kastel. "Despite the corporate take-over of organics, dedicated organic customers are not going to go back to conventional food. There are just a few of the 300 or so synthetic and non-organic ingredients approved for use in organic food that are questionable--and we are going to work like hell to get them out. But in conventional food, there are thousands of highly toxic inputs, and there's no doubt about the danger of many of these compounds."
"The integrity of organic farming and food production," noted Kastel, "is worth caring about."
At an early juncture of the meeting, USDA staff attempted to remove Cornucopia's Kastel from the speaker's podium, preventing him from answering questions from NOSB members addressed to a "citizen-lobbyist" who had volunteered to present testimony on behalf of Cornucopia.
"At the previous NOSB meeting, last fall in Savannah, the board's chairperson allowed a powerful lobbyist, working with Martek Biosciences Corporation and Dean Foods, to waltz up to the microphone and answer questions a Martek executive was unable to address, exactly as I was doing in Albuquerque," Kastel clarified. "Our goal, on behalf of our 7,500 members, mostly organic farmers, was to be treated respectfully, in the same manner as corporate lobbyists had been at past meetings."
The NOSB's new chairman, Barry Flamm, decided to prevent anyone from assisting individuals testifying when questions arose. "We fully support chairman Flamm's decision to level the playing field," Kastel said. "Agribusiness interests have run roughshod over independent stakeholders in organics for too long."
The Cornucopia Institute has prepared a guide to help consumers avoid foods with carrageenan, which has been shown to contain a carcinogenic substance, in their diets. The guide can be accessed here.