Cornucopia Institute Requests that the USDA National Organic Program be Investigated for Corruption Charges over its Approval of Synthetic DHA and ARA Supplements

Written by Max Goldberg on January 26, 2012. Follow Max on Twitter: @livingmaxwell.

Let me say right up front that I support the USDA’s national organic certification program. Why?

Because it is the only nationally-recognized and accepted system we have in place for organic standards.

I firmly believe that the more people we have participating and engaged in the system, the stronger it will become. Conversely, the more people who opt out of the system, the weaker it will become.

That being said, it is by no means perfect. And just as is in every other area of our society, big companies in the organic sector use lobbyists in Washington D.C. to enact policies that will benefit them financially.

Even though organic has social ideals that many other industries do not, we can’t forget that organic is big, big business – $27 billion a year.

As I wrote about recently, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) agreed to allow illegal, synthetically-derived additives – commonly marketed as DHA and ARA — into certified organic products.

The company who makes these additives is Martek Biosciences Corporation. Martek is part of a $12 billion Dutch-based conglomerate,

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).

Needless to say, this decision has created outrage in the organic community and violated the standards set by the NOSB.

The Cornucopia Institute, an organic food watchdog organization, has formally requested (PDF) that the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigate corruption at its National Organic Program.

Key highlights of Cornucopia’s complaint include:

– Misconduct by NOSB Chair Tracy Miedema and her allowing a deficient technical review, which went against the requirements as set forth in the NOSB Procedure Manual.

– The misleading of NOSB board members by NOSB chair Tracy Miedema and William J. Friedman, a Martek lobbyist and very powerful Washington D.C. lawyer at Covington & Burling LLP.

In addition, The Cornucopia Institute has also requested that the D.C. Bar conduct a formal ethics investigation into the conduct of William J. Friedman for misleading NOSB board members.

– Failure to disclose serious conflicts of interest by some NOSB board members, including two individuals who work at Earthbound Farms, the giant organic produce company.

– Possible use of GMOs in the DHA/ARA ingredients or in the processing of them. When asked repeatedly, Martek failed to provide any evidence or proof that its materials are GMO-free.

– NOSB allowed personal attacks by advocates and lobbyists of Martek against any individual who argued against Martek’s petitioned materials.

– NOSB Chair Tracy Miedema made disparaging remarks against unnamed non-profit organizations who worked to discredit “experts”.

She spoke extensively about these consumer and farmer organizations as putting out “misinformation” and said that their previous testimony was a “waste of time”.

DR. ALAN GREENE – WHOSE SIDE IS HE ON?

While I don’t know him well, I had always considered Dr. Alan Greene, a well-known physician who testified at the NOSB meeting on behalf of Martek’s supplements, to be a big organic advocate, and we met briefly at last year’s Natural Products Expo West conference.

He is the author of Feeding Baby Green, and his website says he has worked with organization such as The Organic Center, Environmental Working Group, and Allergy Kids.

Yet, The Cornucopia Institute paints a very, very different picture of Dr. Alan Greene.

The below is taken from Cornucopia’s website.

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, 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.

MY TAKE

Several thoughts.

1) I am very happy that The Cornucopia Institute has taken these measures to protect the integrity of organic and the health of organic consumers.

While I was not at the meeting, it appeared that Martek rolled out their team of “experts” and did their best to bulldoze through their materials.

I don’t fault Martek at all. That is what powerful corporations do – use their muscle to influence policy. Nothing new there.

But what concerns me is that the NOSB does not appear to be protecting organic as it should be doing.

Unfortunately, corruption hits all areas of society, including organic.

Read about the extremely questionable activities that have been going on at the Organic Trade Association and you’ll see what I mean.

2) If I had kids, I would absolutely not be feeding them any certified organic product that has these “added DHA or ARA” supplements.

Yes, they have been approved by the NOSB but a huge cloud of suspicion remains and many questions have not been answered.

When it comes to my health, I don’t listen to what completely conflicted lobbyists and financially motivated “experts” have to say.

Give me independent, third-party analysis and have Martek satisfactorily answer the questions about GMOs in its products. Then, I will listen.

3) Please support The Cornucopia Institute and The Center for Food Safety, two organizations who are constantly fighting and litigating on behalf of organic consumers.

4) Add your name to the Just Label It campaign and spread the word about the importance of getting GMOs labeled.

The best way to take organics to the next level is to require that GMOs be labeled. We are still short of 1 million signature goal, so please get involved.

As soon as I have more news about Cornucopia’s complaint to the OIG, I will let you know.

Thank you for supporting organic food.

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5 Comments

  1. I am very surprised and disturbed that you would make disparaging remarks about the NOSB, a VOLUNTEER group of organic industry folks who give of their time to the organic industry. Shame on you. I know most of the members who went off the board this year, Tracy Miedema, Katrina Heinze, and Steve DeMuri, and let me tell you, they are conscientious, hard working individuals who did the best they could in a very difficult, contentious environment. It’s a wonder anyone wants to be on the NOSB for all the disrespect they receive.

    R. Hudgins

    Written by Richard Hudgins on July 11, 2012 @ 7:09 pm
  2. Hi Richard,

    If you read the post correctly, I quoted what Cornucopia said about NOSB members in its report.

    Nevertheless, I have no issue whatsoever criticizing NOSB members for their willingness to allow a very, very questionable ingredient (DHA) into certified organic products.

    Based on your comment to me, you make it sound as if the NOSB board members are above criticism simply because they are unpaid.

    The fact is that they allowed DHA to be approved and put the profits of big organic ahead of the health concerns of organic consumers. Given their actions with DHA, I have absolutely no issue whatsoever with taking them to task on this.

    If you believe that protecting corporate profits is more important than maintaining the integrity of the organic seal, maybe you are the one who should be ashamed.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on July 12, 2012 @ 5:51 pm
  3. I’m still fuming over this subject. Cornucopia Institute is a disgraceful, politically motivated organiztion with but one goal – money grabbing by it’s directors. What they did to Dr. Greene at the NOSB meeting in question was criminal. You sir, should be ashamed that you support such malicious people.

    Written by Richard Hudgins on March 6, 2013 @ 7:06 pm
  4. Hi Richard,

    For people who care about upholding the integrity of the organic seal and maintaining organic standards, Cornucopia is a fantastic organization.

    You are the one who should be ashamed.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on March 7, 2013 @ 2:11 pm
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