Ruling on synthetic nutrients leaves organic infant formula in a lurch

Ruling on synthetic nutrients leaves organic infant formula in a lurch

During last week's fall National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting, 15 board members voted not to allow synthetic versions of the nutrients taurine, lycopene, lutein and l-carnitine in organic soy-based infant formula.

These nutrients add up to only 5 percent of the total ingredients in organic soy formula, and are present in all conventional soy-based formulas as well. Because there are no organic alternatives to the above nutrients, infant caregivers using soy-based formula will no longer find organic brands to be nutritionally comparable to conventional soy formulas.

Synthetic nutrients (read: vitamins, minerals, amino acids) are included in infant formulas to ensure babies receive the highest level of nutrition possible. If this ruling is implemented, any organic soy-based formula cannot market itself as such if it includes the 5% "other ingredients" of the now-banned vitamins and minerals.

While all parties agree that breast milk is best for infants, it's not always an option. And those caregivers who wish to, or must, provide a soy-based formula have had an organic option for the past decade. Now, parents will have no choice but to buy conventional formula to feed their child a well-balanced, complete formula.

Assumptions about the organic consumer

Those in favor of the ruling are making a couple of conflicting assumptions about the organic consumer. One, that all organic consumers are vehemently opposed to the inclusion of any level of synthetic ingredients, even if it means that no organic version of a processed product is available to them.

The second assumption is that most organic consumers are naïve and cannot interpret a food label or determine the meaning of the organic seal.

Which is it? Are consumers fully aware of organic standards and allowed synthetics, or are they gliding through supermarket aisles believing the little round organic seal is a promise of whole, fresh ingredients in powdered form?

I don't think we should reduce parents and other organic consumers to our own projected values. There are many reasons why someone chooses to buy organic. Despite this, the new ruling does open up new opportunities.

Opportunity for organic food makers/sellers

Manufacturers: It's time to invest heavily in R&D. If no organic alternative to a synthetic ingredient exists at this time, find one. Then prove its commercial viability to get it into organic processing standards and sell it to all your competitors.

Retailers: Don't overstock organic soy-based infant formula yet. Instead, poll your customers. Find out for yourself how knowledgeable, informed or dependent they are on organic soy-based infant formula. Share your results with the NOSB.

What do you think of the NOSB's decision to disallow synthetic nutrients from soy-based formula? 

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