January 23, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042
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Largest Corporate Dairy, Biotech Firm and USDA Accused of Conspiring to Corrupt Rulemaking and Pollute Organics
Watchdog Requests Federal Investigation, Files Ethics Charges
View a full version of this release at http://www.cornucopia.org/2012/01/largest-corpor…llute-organics/
WASHINGTON, DC: The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry research and watchdog organization, announced it has formally requested the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate corruption at its National Organic Program resulting in the use of illegal synthetics in organic food and then allowing powerful corporations to “game the system” for approval “after the fact.”
The controversy surrounds products developed by Martek Biosciences Corporation. Martek, part of a $12 billion Dutch-based conglomerate, that recently petitioned for approval of its genetically modified soil fungus and algae as nutritional supplements in organic food. These supplements, commonly marketed as DHA and ARA, are being added to milk, infant formula and other organic foods by such companies as Dean Foods (Horizon), Abbott Laboratories (Similac) and Nurture, Inc. (Happy Baby).
After a formal legal complaint by Cornucopia, and an investigative story by the Washington Post, the USDA announced in April 2010 that it had “inappropriately” allowed Martek oils to be included in organic foods.
But instead of immediately ordering the removal of these unapproved synthetics from organic food, the Obama/Vilsack administration at the USDA delayed enforcement by 18 months.
In December, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the expert panel set up by Congress to advise the USDA Secretary on organic matters, narrowly approved the Martek petitions for their patented versions of DHA and ARA. “All hell broke loose at the meeting in Savannah as the controversy grew extremely heated,” Cornucopia Codirector Mark Kastel noted.
Although Martek told the board that they would discontinue the use of the controversial neurotoxic solvent n-hexane for DHA/ARA processing, they did not disclose what other synthetic solvents would be substituted. Federal organic standards prohibit the use of all synthetic/petrochemical solvents, including isopropyl alcohol, which is currently used to extract DHA algal oil for use in products such as Horizon milk.
Martek brought in William “Jay” Friedman, with the powerful Washington law firm of Covington and Burling, to lead their approval process. Friedman appeared to deliberately mislead NOSB members into believing that the powdered form of Martek’s DHA oil was not covered in the petition: “That’s not the petitioned material,” he said.
“This apparent subterfuge led to the NOSB’s failure to review other aspects of these materials which would have disqualified them, under law, for inclusion in organic food,” said Cornucopia’s Kastel.
The only scientists who testified at the meeting on the DHA issue were all on Martek’s payroll. They focused on research showing benefits of consuming naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids (such as those found in fish and breast milk), while ignoring the preponderance of published peer-reviewed research that shows that these health benefits are not gained from consuming Martek’s novel, manufactured DHA.
Dean Foods, Martek’s largest customer, brought in a well-known web-pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene, who has acted as a public relations agent endorsing Horizon brand organic milk with the added Martek DHA oils.
Although Dr. Greene represented himself as a “consultant,” simply answering questions for Dean Foods, and stated he had previously worked for two other organic companies, he failed to disclose his multiple conflicts of interest in commenting on the benefits of Martek’s manufactured DHA supplements.
Cornucopia’s complaint to the OIG also included evidence documenting that three corporate-backed members of the NOSB, who voted in favor of this petition, had undeclared conflicts of interest.
The Cornucopia Institute has sent a formal briefing paper on these matters to all members of the National Organic Standards Board asking them to reopen their deliberations on Martek nutritional oils.
Stakeholders in the organic community who would like to send an formal message to the National Organic Standards Board, expressing their support for reevaluating the Martek materials, can do so by accessing an action alert distributed by The Cornucopia Institute.
Although Dr. Greene represented himself as a “consultant,” simply answering questions for Dean Foods, and stated he had previously worked for two other organic companies, but failed to disclose his multiple conflicts of interest in commenting on the benefits of Martek’s manufactured DHA supplements.
Greene has also accepted compensation from Mead Johnson, the largest conventional infant formula manufacturer, to promote Martek’s DHA oil in their products, and even has his own product line of nutritional supplements that include Martek DHA, marketed by Twinlabs with his name and photograph on the product package.
“It is unconscionable that a physician, who accepted money from a big drug company to promote synthetic DHA—which many believes promotes the use of baby formula at the expense of the nutrients in breast feeding—failed to disclose such a gross conflict of interest when he testified before the governmental body on certified ‘organic’ standards,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy/PRWatch, which helps expose corporate PR tactics.
Greene’s role on behalf of Dean Foods and Martek was to directly dispute the preponderance of scientific literature, including two meta-analyses, that discredits Martek’s claims that their supplements promote cognitive development in infants and children.
The Organic Consumers Association, a Minnesota-based organization, is calling on the USDA to immediately remove the powdered form of Martek’s oils from all organic products, including infant formula and baby cereals. OCA believes that Martek’s lobbyist, Friedman, realized that the powdered form would never be approved by the NOSB, and that he, through his oral testimony, effectively changed the petition to exclude the powdered DHA oil.
“Let me play devil’s advocate here. If Friedman wasn’t being dishonest, it means that the powdered form was not recommended for approval by the NOSB and thus should be immediately removed from baby food and infant formula,” says Alexis Baden-Mayer, Political Director of the Organic Consumers Association.
Consumers wishing to reap the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids can find these naturally occurring nutrients in a variety of foods, including leafy green vegetables, fish, flax, walnuts, milk and meat from grass-fed animals, and pastured eggs.
Research suggests that increasing the amount of omega-3s in the diet by supplements, such as fish oil, will not confer health benefits unless the consumption of omega-6-rich foods, especially corn and corn-based foods such as grain-fed meat and milk, is simultaneously decreased.
An online guide to avoiding foods with Martek’s genetically mutated DHA oils will be available soon on the Cornucopia website: www.cornucopia.org. A list of organic food brands that currently contain Martek DHA algal oil is already available.
After this controversy became prominent in the media, a number of companies that included Martek’s DHA in organic foods in the past have removed these controversial ingredients. These brands include ZenSoy organic soymilk, Plum Organics baby foods, and NuGo organic nutrition bars.